New ASEAN-RCEP Talks Held in Singapore

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Leaders of 16 Asia-Pacific nations gathered in Singapore last week for the fifth round of negotiations for the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which aims to bring the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and six of its free trade partners into a single free-trade region by the end of 2015.

The RCEP promises a comprehensive, mutually beneficial agreement to facilitate regional expansion and integration of trade and investment for all its partners, including the 10 ASEAN countries and China, South Korea, India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

It is one of two major trade agreements currently under negotiation for the region, the other being the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, involving 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific. Both agreements hope to bring wide-reaching benefits to regional trade and economic development.

At the latest RCEP meeting, leaders discussed a framework for tariff bargaining and reducing non-tariff barriers such as sanitary measures and customs formalities. The meeting also touched on topics including intellectual property, e-commerce, and competitiveness.

Agreement has yet to be reached, however, on tariff reductions, raising doubts about meeting the 2015 deadline. Several delegations emphasized the need to urgently reach a conclusion on market opening to speed up progress of the trade liberalization talks.

Negotiations for the RCEP were originally begun in May 2013 in Brunei, followed by rounds in Australia, Malaysia and China.

RCEP is expected to form one of the world’s largest free trade agreements, covering a region home to over 3 billion people (almost half of the world’s population), and accounting for about one-third of global gross domestic product.

Leaders will convene again in August for the second RCEP Ministerial Meeting, and again in December for the next round of negotiations in India.

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