Dialogue partners look set to clinch the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) on Nov 14 in Vietnam, according to the trade negotiators' chief.
Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department, said 15 RCEP members have insisted on signing the pact at the upcoming summit despite the prolonged pandemic.
"It is difficult for face-to-face meetings, so the signing will be via hologram with the economic ministers of RCEP countries on Nov 14," she said.
Mrs Auramon said Vietnam as host country organised the unconventional approach. There will be a referendum or official signing by each country after the hologram.
After signing the agreement, the department will disclose the details of the agreement to the public on its website in both Thai and English, she said.
The Commerce Ministry is expected to ask for parliament's ratification next year. Under the parliamentary ratification process, if half of the RCEP member states (at least six Asean countries and four non-Asean countries) ratify the pact, it will be enforced instantly.
"The RCEP will be implemented in 2021," Mrs Auramon said. "With every country's economy reeling from the Covid-19 crisis, they want to promote economic growth through the biggest free trade agreement in the world."
The RCEP is a proposed FTA 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.