Three months away from their self-imposed deadline, Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez warned his fellow economic ministers that time was running out for the China-led mega trade deal and urged them “not to miss the opportunity” of announcing the deal’s substantial conclusion this November.
During the opening ceremony of the 49th Asean Economic Ministers (AEM) and related meetings in Metro Manila, Lopez said the world was monitoring the progress of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a mega trade agreement among countries that collectively account for around 30 percent of the global economy.
“We need to take a collective stance and arrive at a clear consensus on the vital elements of this agreement. Let us not miss the opportunity of announcing a substantial conclusion of RCEP negotiations especially in November, or a significant breakthrough to culminate in our celebration of Asean’s golden jubilee year,” he said in his speech.
It remains to be seen what passes for a substantial conclusion, given some contentions being raised by some countries that prevent RCEP member states from reaching a consensus.
Lopez previously clarified that a substantial conclusion does not mean that the actual agreement would be signed this year. Instead, it just means a consensus on the basic framework for the RCEP.
There are 16 countries participating in the RCEP talks, an ambitious multilateral trade initiative that now stands alone in the global spotlight after a comparatively large trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), has been deemed dead by many without US participation.
Ongoing trade talks are participated in by the 10-member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), along with six dialogue partners: Australia, New Zealand, India, Korea, Japan and China.
In spite of the potential in further opening up these markets, there have been a number of contentions that are delaying progress in the trade talks. These include the level of inclusion for the trade of goods, or how much of each country’s goods would be subjected to the trade agreement.
“This partnership has tremendous opportunity to re-energize global free trade and open markets. As such, all eyes are on RCEP and how it will delicately balance meaningful outcomes that benefit all parties while addressing the sensitivities and circumstances of our economies, especially on market access and rules-based scheme,” Lopez said.
“Given that we are only three months away from the Asean Leaders Summit in November, we are presented with a chance to continue the momentum during the fifth RCEP ministerial meeting,” he added, referring to the meeting scheduled later this week.
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