RCEP talks to end in November
Negotiators urged to 'maintain flexibility'
Commerce and trade ministers from Asean's 10 member states and six trade partners have affirmed their commitment to finalising the negotiation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by the end of this year.
Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit said ministers from 16 countries have agreed the talks should be wrapped up soon and the result of the negotiations announced at the Asean Summit to take place in November.
The signing of the RCEP agreement is expected in 2020, Mr Jurin told a press conference on Monday after chairing the 7th RCEP Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok.
According to Mr Jurin, the RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee (RCEP-TNC) will follow up on the talks at the Da Nang meeting in Vietnam, on Sept 19-27.
"Asean countries and their dialogue partners have agreed to be flexible in various areas -- including market access, services and investment -- so the talks can be concluded," he said.
"Given the global trade situation and uncertainty, once formed, the RCEP will boost trade and investments and promote sustainable economic development for all 16 countries."
When asked about the follow-up discussions in Da Nang, Mr Jurin said the negotiators have been informed the government wants the negotiations to be finalised.
"As such, they will be urged to remain flexible," he said.
Last Friday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha also said Asean and its dialogue partners should wrap up talks on the long-overdue RCEP by this November.
The RCEP initiative was launched in November 2012 with the aim of establishing deeper economic cooperation among 10 Asean countries and its six dialogue partners -- namely China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and New Zealand.
Currently, negotiators from all participating countries have concluded talks on seven articles from a total of 20, which include customs and trade facilitation; state procurements; economic and technical cooperation; and SMEs.
The 13 remaining articles concern a wide range of issues from e-commerce to competition, intellectual property rights, telecommunications and market expansion for goods, to services and investments.
Negotiations have dragged on for nearly seven years through numerous rounds of talks. The talks were hampered by the lack of free trade agreements between some partners, such as China-Japan, India-China, and India-Australia-New Zealand.
Once the RCEP is finalised, the 16 countries will form a major regional trading bloc that encompasses some 3.56 billion people and accounts for about one-third of the world's gross domestic product.
The combined trade volume between signatories will exceed US$10.3 trillion (about 328 trillion baht), equivalent to 29% of world trade.
Meanwhile, Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of Department of Trade Negotiations, said the 51st Meeting of the Asean Economic Ministers (AEM) acknowledged four issues to be pushed forward, including a drive for trade expansion within Asean to US$1.18 trillion by 2025 under the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
She said the meeting also followed up on 13 economic issues proposed by Thailand as chair of Asean, and managed to reach agreements on seven issues.
The remaining issues, including the expansion of Asean Single Window System to include all 10 Asean countries and action plans under the digital platform, are expected to be concluded before Thailand's term as Asean chair ends, she said.
As for the Asean Single Window System, Brunei and Cambodia are now connected to the system, bringing the total number of Asean members exchanging Certificate of Origin Form D electronically up to seven.
Myanmar, Laos and the Philippines are expected to come on board later this year.