A total of 16 ministers from Asia’s economies negotiated the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement in Cambodia, addressing specific sensitivities and issues, and pledged utmost cooperation to reach a deal later this year.
The mega trade deal is being negotiated by the 10-member Asean bloc and six free trade pact partners, including Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
A joint statement issued after the 7th RCEP Intercessional Ministerial Meeting held on Saturday in Siem Reap town said the participants urged all RCEP participating countries to address specific sensitivities while working towards achieving commercially meaningful and balanced outcomes.
“The Ministers recalled the Leaders’ determination to conclude a modern, comprehensive, high quality and mutually beneficial RCEP in 2019, and resolved to exert utmost effort to achieve this target,” the statement said.
To ensure that progress is made towards meeting the leaders’ mandate for conclusion this year, the ministers agreed to intensify engagement for the remainder of the year, including by convening more intercessional meetings.
The ministers agreed to meet next at the 8th RCEP intercessional Ministerial Meeting to be held in August after the 27th RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee meeting and related meetings.
The meeting was opened by Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen and was chaired by Thai Deputy Minister of Commerce Chutima Bunyapraphasara who reviewed developments since the 2nd RCEP Summit on November 14, 2018, in Singapore.
Negotiations on RCEP began in 2013 and included Asia’s three largest economies – China, Japan and India – as well as Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
The nations combined cover about half the world’s population and roughly a third of global trade.
Cambodian Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak and ministry spokespersons could not be reached to comment further on the progress of the negotiations.
Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry Suresh Prabhu was reported in the Times of India as saying that while some RCEP nations are heading to the polls, negotiators should be given flexibility to keeping moving toward an agreement.
“With a little more flexibility, we can accomplish a lot in services trade, which holds immense potential for RCEP,” Prabhu was quoted as saying.