BANGKOK—The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is on track to conclude negotiations on a free trade deal involving 16 countries and covering a third of the global economy in November.
Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi said there is now a “positive climate” for concluding talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which is expected to result in one of the world’s largest free trade zones.
“We have been given the mandate to finish by the end of this year. There is a sense of urgency. We do not want to go beyond seven years [of negotiations],” he said in a dialog with journalists during the third Asean Media Forum here in Thailand, the current chairman of Asean.
RCEP talks began in 2013, but the lack of consensus over tariffs has pushed back the target for its conclusion.
Lim said outstanding issues on market access and services still need to be resolved even as he brushed aside speculations that certain negotiating partners might be left behind under an Asean Minus One or Minus Two formula when the RCEP is finally signed.
“You have 16 countries, each with different needs. We don’t want anyone to be disadvantaged, and it is not our intention to leave one or two behind,” he added.
RCEP is envisioned to bring together the 10 member-states of Asean, Australia, China, Japan, India, South Korea and New Zealand.
Asean+3 Macro Economic Research Office chief economist Hoe Ee Khor said the RCEP would “reinforce the region’s strong commitment to integration and free trade.”
“There would be greater access to markets, thereby potentially changing the way trade is conducted, including possible reconfiguration of regional supply chains,” Khor said.
Aside from the conclusion of RCEP, Lim said all member-states of the regional bloc will be connected under the Asean Single Window system that will expedite the clearance of goods.
“In terms of trade facilitation, we are working closely with business people to ensure that the single window is on track,” the Asean official said.