Asia-Pacific nations to seek conclusion of free trade pact by 2016

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov. 22 (PNA/Kyodo) — Leaders from 16 Asia-Pacific countries agreed on Sunday to push for the conclusion of a massive regional free trade deal by 2016.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India have been negotiating for a trade pact known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership since May 2013.

But after 10 rounds of official-level talks and four ministerial meetings, the grouping failed to wrap up by their earlier targeted deadline that is the end of this year.

In his speech before the release of a joint statement, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak said they have resolved issues on modalities for market access for trade, services and investment.

“However, considering the challenges faced and the value of constructive engagements, more time is needed to conclude the negotiations. Hence, we the leaders of RCEP participating countries, agree to allow negotiations to continue and request our negotiators to intensify their efforts to conclude and achieve a mutually beneficial and high quality agreement in 2016,” he said in front of an audience that included leaders from RCEP countries who are here to attend a regional summit.

The statement said that, with half of the world’s population and almost 30 percent of the world’s output and trade, the RCEP offers “immense potential to improve standard of living for billions of people.”

Last year, the total trade of RCEP economies reached USD 10.8 trillion while total foreign investment inflow hit USD 366.3 billion.

Efforts under RCEP have proceeded in parallel with the more high-profile free trade talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership led by the United States.

There is pressure to speed up the RCEP negotiating process after the 12-countries in the TPP finally reached a deal last month despite skepticism by many. The TPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

TPP is seen as crucial for the United States to counter China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region, while RCEP is one of the key platforms for China to strengthen its trade ties with other nations.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. (PNA/Kyodo)