Virus poses no barrier to RCEP negotiations

Virus poses no barrier to RCEP negotiations

Travel restrictions due to Covid-19 prevention measures presented no hurdle for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which harnessed video conferencing to speed up trade negotiations.

The pandemic was expected to hamper already delayed RCEP negotiations because scheduled meetings were cancelled to follow travel ban lockdown measures in member state countries.

Ronnarong Phoolpipat, Commerce Ministry Chief Inspector-General and chief negotiator of RCEP for Thailand, said recent trade negotiations and meetings via video conference were "surprisingly efficient and helpful".

"We [trade negotiators] have completed many negotiation issues during the past two months. It is faster and saves on time and costs. Covid-19 brings a new normal to trade negotiations," Mr Ronnarong told the Bangkok Post on Sunday.

The 10-member Asean bloc along with Japan, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand are doing everything they can to ensure the RCEP will be signed by all 16 members. India has been reluctant to ratify RCEP but members will continue to find solutions with the hope the nation will return to the negotiation table, Mr Ronnarong said.

The RCEP members will complete all 20 chapters of legal text-based negotiations by July and the Department of Trade Negotiations will publicise documents to inform all involved sectors, he said.

He said RCEP dialogue partners are reviewing legal texts and expect the process to finish in July so the pact can be signed later in the year during the Asean Summit. The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between the 10 member states of Asean and six dialogue partners: China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

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