RCEP deal nears conclusion at 35th Asean Summit
NONTHABURI, Thailand — Trade ministers have reached “near conclusion” of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in the 35th Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez bared Saturday.
Fifteen out of the 16 Asia-Pacific countries in the world’s largest trade deal have already reached an agreement and are just waiting for one remaining country to resolve its pending issues.
“There’s really substantial progress or shall we say, near conclusion or preliminary conclusion so we have a very positive report come Monday. Text-based wise, I would say almost completed,” Lopez said in a press briefing here.
RCEP is a free trade deal among the 10-member states of Asean plus its six trading partners Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
Leaders of the said countries are due to meet on Monday where an RCEP Summit is scheduled.
“All countries are in, but in the text-based chapters, of course, one country would defer to have some kind of confirmation before they can really totally agree to the conclusion of all these 20 chapters,” he added, opting not to name the country.
However, it has been widely reported that India had been reluctant to liberalize its market and had been a key sticking point in the several years of negotiation which commenced in 2012.
Nonetheless, Lopez expressed optimism that all countries in the free trade deal would be included.
“Anything is possible, but the mindset right now is for everyone to be in. All efforts are being extended, being worked on so that everybody can be in,” Lopez said.
“We believe that even that one country is working hard so that they can assess and address all the issues pending as far as the rules and even as far as market access is concerned. So the mindset is for all of us to be included in the RCEP,” he added.
Lopez said there are a few more negotiations are still needed, but these were expected to be done by February 2020.
“After this, there would be a continuing negotiation on the remaining items as part of the market access area which hopefully can be finished by February next year,” Lopez said.
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