Prayut urges speedy RCEP deal
PM lauds Asean at ministers' meeting
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared on Friday that Asean and six dialogue partners should wrap up talks on the long-overdue Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by this November.
Gen Prayut made the remark in his opening speech for the 51st Asean Economic Ministers (AEM) Meeting, which Bangkok is hosting until Tuesday.
He told the gathering of ministers that Asean's 10 member states and six trade partners must work together to build internal and external connectivity by finalising the RCEP talks this year.
"A speedy conclusion to the talks will reflect trust among the regional and dialogue partners in synchronising their trade and investment systems, as well as rules and regulations governing multilateral trade,'' Gen Prayut said.
The RCEP talks were launched in November 2012, with the goal of deepening economic cooperation between Asean and China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and New Zealand.
Negotiations have dragged on for nearly seven years through numerous rounds of talks.
Known as the mega Asia-Pacific trade agreement, the RCEP will bring opportunities to Thai companies to invest in member countries across a range of industries.
Signatory countries to the RCEP have a combined population of about 3.56 billion, with a trade volume of more than US$10.3 trillion (328 trillion baht) or 29% of world trade.
If the RCEP is finalised, the 16 countries will form a major trading bloc accounting for around one-third of the world's gross domestic product.
The RCEP aims to cover goods, services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, competition and intellectual property rights.
Backed by China, the RCEP is often seen as a rival to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a vast regional pact once led by the US before President Donald Trump withdrew early in his tenure.
In his speech, Gen Prayut also applauded Asean's achievements since its establishment on Aug 8, 1967 in Bangkok.
They include the Asean Free Trade Area, which promotes regional trade by lowering tariffs, the Asean Economic Community (AEC) for closer economic cooperation among member states, and the RCEP.
Gen Prayut said that Asean was built upon the "dare to dream" vision of its founding fathers who aspired to see the region prosper through political stability, economic growth and social progress.
"This aspiration has been passed to the next generation, who have driven forward this dream over the past five decades. However, if these dreamers had not dared to act, Asean would not have established a secure foundation and turned itself from a loosely knit group into a community that is deeply integrated in all aspects nowadays,'' Gen Prayut declared.
He went on to say that Thailand, as this year's Asean chair, is set to cooperate with other member countries to strengthen the bloc under the theme of "Advancing Partnership for Sustainability", amid geo-economical and geopolitical changes, and disruptive technology.
The AEM yesterday acknowledged the AEC blueprint 2025, which was adopted at the 27th Asean Summit in November 2015, said Jurin Laksanawisit, deputy PM and commerce minister.
One objective of the blueprint is to complete the unfinished business of regional integration. This includes trade liberalisation, as low tariffs have been partially offset by a rise in non-tariff measures.
The meeting also approved four economic plans to be delivered under the AEC blueprint, Mr Jurin said.
Included in the plans are the Asean digital integration framework action plan 2019-2025, the guidelines for development of skilled labour, the strategy to develop professional services for the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), the Asean declaration on industrial transformation to Industry 4.0, and the digitalisation of Asean Micro Enterprises.
Asean must develop human resources to manage the shift to 4IR digital technology, Mr Jurin said.
The AEM meeting assigned the Asean Secretariat to implement the Asean 4IR strategy, covering not just the economy but also social, cultural, political and security aspects, the deputy prime minister said.
The AEM will also host trade talks on Sept 9 with partners including China, South Korea, the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, Russia, Canada, Hong Kong and the Asean Business Advisory Council, the deputy premier said.
Mr Jurin said all 10 Asean members will receive mutual benefits from the AEM as they can join forces to deal with changes in the production of goods and services and the arrival of new technologies.
The meeting will also boost multilateral trade and exports among Asean countries, and help reduce trade barriers among themselves and with its trade partners, Mr Jurin added.