RCEP members ramp up talks as TPP flops

RCEP members ramp up talks as TPP flops

Mrs Apiradi says RCEP just grew in importance. THANARAK KHUNTON
Mrs Apiradi says RCEP just grew in importance. THANARAK KHUNTON

Shortly after the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), senior officials of the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have vowed to step up talks, pledging to conclude modalities for trade in goods liberalisation by the middle of this year.

Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn said the US withdrawal from the TPP trade pact gives the RCEP a more important role in global trade, as it can become the largest free trade pact, covering more than a half of the world's population and over a quarter of the world's GDP.

The RCEP was launched in November 2012 with the aim of establishing deeper economic cooperation among the 10 Asean members and six dialogue partners: China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

The 16 countries have missed the deadline for concluding negotiations twice, in 2015 and last year.

Officials have held 16 rounds of negotiations, with the last one taking place in Indonesia last December.

"Asean, with the six other trade dialogue partners, are now set to accelerate wrapping up trade modalities to ensure that the world's biggest FTA will be finalised as fast as possible," she said.

In a bid to conclude the trade liberalisation agreement, senior-ranking officials from RCEP member states are scheduled to hold the 17th RCEP Trade Negotiation Committee meeting from Feb 22 to March 3 in Japan.

The discussions will focus on tariff reduction and elimination for all 16 members. But Mrs Apiradi said some difficulties still exist, as some members under the RCEP have yet to make bilateral trade agreements, including China-Japan, India-China, China-South Korea, India-Australia, India-New Zealand, China–Australia and China-New Zealand.

As those countries have no bilateral FTAs, they have to start talks from scratch, said Mrs Apiradi. All Asean members already have bilateral trade pacts with the six partners.

She said after the senior official round of negotiations, the ministerial-level meeting will be held by the middle of this year in Vietnam, with final talks proposed by year-end.

"If the 16-member RCEP talks are successful, it will result in the world's largest free-trade agreement, with a combined population of 3.35 billion and combined GDP valued at more than US$17.1 trillion," said Mrs Apiradi.

In 2014, Thailand's total trade value with RCEP countries amounted to US$2.6 trillion, accounting for 57% of the Thailand's total trade value.

Thai exports to RCEP were valued at $1.27 trillion, or 56% of total export value. Imports were worth $1.33 trillion, accounting for 58% of total imports.

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