Partners vow to press on with signing RCEP deal
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Partners vow to press on with signing RCEP deal

Dialogue partners remain committed to signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by the end of the year as scheduled despite the spreading coronavirus, which has put off most face-to-face meetings of Asean, the World Trade Organization, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the RCEP in the first half of the year.

Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department under the Commerce Ministry, said the department has adjusted the trade negotiation schedule during the outbreak by using video conferencing or virtual meetings to talk with dialogue partners.

The 29th RCEP Trade Negotiation Committee meeting scheduled for March 23-27 in Jakarta will instead be a video conference.

Thailand and dialogue partners are advancing the review of legal texts and other related work in accordance with the established work plan, preparing the final text for countries to sign.

The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between the 10 member states of Asean and six dialogue partners, namely China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. Negotiations on the RCEP started in late 2012 at the 21st Asean Summit in Phnom Penh.

In last-minute talks on Nov 4 last year, with Thailand as Asean chair, India pulled the plug on joining the RCEP over unresolved issues, especially those concerning agricultural tariffs.

India later announced that it would not be joining the pact this year during the Asean Summit scheduled for Vietnam.

India is concerned that the deal could affect the livelihood of its most vulnerable citizens and lead to rising trade deficits and a flood of imports, especially cheap products from China.

The RCEP's leader statement noted that 15 participating countries have concluded text-based negotiations for all 20 chapters and market access issues.

With or without India, the RCEP agreement has been scheduled for official signing this year, coming into force either in 2021 or January 2022.

"The health of the department's personnel and participants is paramount," Mrs Auramon said. "During the outbreak, teleconferencing is the best tool for international trade talks."

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