Thailand ready to attend RCEP trade deal
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Thailand ready to attend RCEP trade deal

Pact first to be inked by Asean online

Thailand is ready to attend the signing of the long-awaited Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) at the 37th Asean Summit under the chairmanship of Vietnam next week.

It will be the first-ever virtual signing of an agreement Asean has undertaken, a Foreign Ministry official said on Thursday.

The bloc and its dialogue partners are scheduled to convene via a teleconference from Nov 9-15. The theme of the virtual summit is "Cohesive and Responsive Asean" and is being held online because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking at the ministry, Usana Berananda, the director-general of the Department of Asean Affairs, said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will attend high-level conferences, including Mekong-Japan and Mekong-ROK and RCEP Summits, from Nov 12-15.

"Thailand will join the signing of the RCEP [on Nov 15] if documents are fully prepared. It will be the first-ever signing of such an agreement conducted online," she told the press briefing.

The RCEP is a trade agreement between the 10 members of Asean and six dialogue partners -- China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. After talks on Nov 4 last year, India pulled out of the pact, citing unresolved issues.

Asked about the bloc's stance on India, Ms Usana said Asean will keep the door open for India to join when it is ready. "We have set special entry requirements for India because we recognise it is a key regional player. Asean and Japan have sent the same signal," she said.

Ms Usana said the leaders will also discuss other regional issues, including the South China Sea dispute, tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and the coronavirus situation in Myanmar's Rakhine state, where Thailand earlier sent face masks and medical personnel to help contain the virus.

"Asean is giving out a signal that the region is calling for peace there to ensure we can invest our resources in post-outbreak recovery," she said.

When asked about progress in formulating a code of conduct in the South China Sea dispute, she said the coronavirus hampered negotiations early in the year, but a working group is now resuming talks.

"This document is more highly sensitive than others which have mostly gone online. Concerned parties prefer to negotiate in person," she said.

Ms Usana said Asean will also discuss how the Covid-19 fund proposed by Gen Prayut during the Special Asean Summit in April is spent. Thailand contributed US$100,000 (3.1 million baht) to the fund.

She also said the Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies, developed from the Disaster Emergency Logistics System for Asean in Chai Nat, will be launched at the summit.

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