ASEAN ends first round of free-trade negotiations
The first round of negotiations for a comprehensive regional free trade area among Association of South East Asian Nations member countries and free trade partners Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, ended Sunday.
The negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) began on May 9 in Brunei. ASEAN members are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
“Negotiations for the RCEP will recognize ASEAN centrality in the emerging regional economic architecture and the interests of ASEAN’s free trade partners in supporting and contributing to economic integration, equitable economic development and strengthening economic cooperation among the participating countries,” read a statement from ASEAN.
It added that the RCEP will “have a broader and deeper engagement with significant improvements over the existing ASEAN+1 free trade agreements, while recognizing the individual and diverse circumstances of the participating countries.”
Together, the negotiating countries encompass more than three billion people and generate about one-third of global economic output.
The partnership is expected to increase trade within and outside the ASEAN region and enhance transparency in trade and investment relations.
Also, the RCEP is projected to rival the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement supported by the United States, and which involves 12 countries: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
Members of the negotiating panel agreed to take into consideration “the different levels of development of the participating countries” and will include provisions for special and differential treatment for the least-developed ASEAN member states.
The second round of consultations is scheduled for Sept. 23 to 27 in Australia.
Negotiations are expected to conclude by the end of 2015.