TPP pull-out likely to kick-start RCEP

TPP pull-out likely to kick-start RCEP

Thailand to support latter pact's conclusion

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) involving Thailand and 15 other countries is likely to get off the ground and wrap up faster than expected after US President Donald Trump announced America's exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), says Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak.

Mr Somkid said the US withdrawal from the TPP offers good prospects for the RCEP, as all eyes are looking now on the RCEP as an alternative multilateral trade pact in the absence of the TPP.

Twelve Pacific Rim countries led by the US concluded the TPP agreement on Oct 5, 2015. The economies of the TPP signatories make up 40% of global trade. The 12 TPP members account for 40% of Thailand's trade and 45% of foreign direct investment.

The RCEP was launched in November 2012 with the aim of establishing deeper economic cooperation between the 10 Asean members and six dialogue partners: China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The member countries represent 29% of global trade, or US$9.5 trillion (335 trillion baht).

For the RCEP, the members have tentatively agreed to eliminate tariffs on 80% of all goods, amounting to 8,000-9,000 items. Asean members need to raise the elimination of tariffs to cover 92% of all goods.

The 16 countries missed the deadline of concluding negotiations twice in 2015 and last year.

To date, officials have held 16 rounds of negotiations, with the last one in Indonesia in December 2016.

They are expected to meet again in Japan next month.

"The RCEP is a significant market for Asia and the world," said Mr Somkid. "Thailand is ready to support faster conclusion of the RCEP to boost our trade and investment."

But he said if the US comes up with any other framework for economic cooperation, Thailand will be ready to study and join it.

Nonetheless, despite the absence of the TPP, Thailand remains eligible to pursue trade and investment talks through the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (Tifa) and the Thailand-US Amity Treaty.

Thailand and the US signed Tifa in 2002. The US uses Tifa discussions to address trade issues of long-standing concern and often to establish the necessary conditions for movement towards a free trade agreement (FTA).

Under Tifa, the US and Thailand have focused on action plans to address US concerns regarding Thailand's intellectual property rights and customs regimes.

Tifa meetings were suspended in 2003 after then-president George W Bush announced in October of that year the US's intention to negotiate an FTA with Thailand to deepen trade and investment and encourage economic and regulatory reform, improving IP protection, transparency, and the rule of law.

FTA negotiations started in 2004 but were suspended in 2006 following the dissolution of Thai parliament and subsequent military coup. FTA talks resumed in 2012 during the Yingluck Shinawatra administration.

The US is Thailand's third-largest trading partner in the world market, after China and Japan. Two-way trade between Thailand and US amounted to $37.9 billion in 2015.

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