First Round of RCEP Negotiations Conclude

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May 16 – The first round of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) wrapped up on Sunday after being launched by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and six free trade agreement (FTA) partners last week. The countries in attendance were Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand in addition to ASEAN’s Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The RCEP’s main purpose is to create a comprehensive and mutually beneficial economic partnership that has a deeper level of engagement compared to ASEAN’s already existing FTAs. Once fully established, the RCEP will be one of the world’s largest free trade areas, and it will create an integrated market of over 3 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of over US$20 trillion.

In addition to covering issues on trade in goods, services and investments, a statement released by ASEAN expressed that the negotiations for the RCEP “will recognize ASEAN centrality in the emerging regional economic architecture and the interests of ASEAN’s free trade partners in supporting and contributing to economic integration, equitable economic development and strengthening economic cooperation among the participating countries.”

The RCEP will also include provisions to assist with transparency in trade and investments between the participating countries, in addition to provisions to give special treatment to the least-developed member states of ASEAN.

“You can see companies from Japan, Korea, China, India, Australia or even New Zealand, in terms of services, investing in ASEAN. They have invested in ASEAN countries…and we see that there is ample room for all participating countries to synergize their potential,” said Iman Pambagyo, director-general of the International Trade Cooperation at Indonesia’s Ministry of Trade.

The second round of negotiations is scheduled to take place in Australia next September. The leaders hope to conclude the trade treaty by 2015.

The RCEP is likely to rival the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that is supported by the United States involving Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.