Analysts and economists are optimistic that there will be a push to establish a General Secretariat of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement in Cambodia during the 54th ASEAN Economic Ministers' Meeting (AEM) and related meetings, set to take place from Siem Reap province.
Several ASEAN Economic Ministers' Meetings are scheduled, including the ASEAN Ministers’ Meeting of RCEP.
The Ministry of Commerce said in a September 9 statement that Cambodia was ready to work closely with all member states, partners and the ASEAN Secretariat to push for further efforts to rebuild the regional economic community and accelerate economic recovery.
Prime Minister Hun Sen will make the opening remarks at the two-day 54th AEM on September 14 under the theme “ASEAN ACT: Addressing Challenges Together.”
At an August 3 meeting with Chinese State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, Hun Sen requested that China support the initiative of establishing a General Secretariat of RCEP in Phnom Penh, as China is a member of the agreement.
Cambodia Chamber of Commerce vice-president Lim Heng opined that Cambodia should use this opportunity to urge the establishment of a RCEP office as Cambodia these meetings will be attended by representatives of leading economies and countries which partner with the RCEP.
“This is a good opportunity as Cambodia chairs ASEAN and is hosting the meetings. Cambodia will be able to coordinate solutions to many issues related to the ongoing economic crises in the region and the world,” he said. “In addition, I believe that there will be push for discussion about establishing a secretariat office on RCEP in Cambodia, following a request by Prime Minister Hun Sen.”
He added that in order to implement the RCEP agreement smoothly, it will be necessary to have a separate RCEP general secretariat to facilitate implementation.
“The RCEP General Secretariat will function no differently from the ASEAN secretary-general. Cambodia will enjoy certain economic benefits from the RCEP general secretariat,” said Heng.
He added that the RCEP is the largest free trade agreement in the world, with a combined population of 2,270 million, an economic volume of $26 trillion, and a total export volume of $5.2 trillion, or 30 percent of the total volume of the world.
Hong Vannak, an economist at the Institute of International Relations of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that as chair of ASEAN, it is a good time for the Kingdom to introduce the idea.
“Obviously, Cambodia, along with other countries in the region, is in a hurry to reorganise their economies, in order to recover from the hit they took from the global pandemic,” he said.
“National incomes have dropped and spending has increased dramatically. Cambodia, for example, has spent nearly $3 billion handling Covid-19, including the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines,” he added.