China, Japan, South Korea to push for RCEP signing in 2020

(From left) Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, South Korean Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Sung Yun-mo and Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama at a meeting in Beijing, on Dec 22, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING • China, Japan and South Korea will actively push for the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement next year and accelerate the negotiating pace of the China-Japan-South Korea free trade agreement, their top economic and trade officials have said.

In Beijing at their 12th Economic and Trade Ministers' meeting on Sunday, the officials also advocated an open, inclusive world economy and said they would work together to oppose protectionism and unilateralism, to maintain the multilateral trading system of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and to continue to strengthen cooperation under multilateral frameworks such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Group of 20.

The consensus was reached ahead of the eighth China-Japan-South Korea leaders' meeting, to be held in Chengdu, Sichuan province, today. The meeting will focus on creating a vision for future cooperation and expanding common interests, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

Speaking on Sunday, Commerce Minister Zhong Shan called upon the other partners to give full rein to complementary industries, to improve the level of trade and investment cooperation and play a positive role in deepening regional economic integration and achieving sustainable development.

He said the three countries must enhance cooperation in the next stage in areas such as regional connectivity, creating solutions for an ageing society, conversion of energy and developing digital technologies.

In response, South Korea's Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Sung Yun-mo said these moves will help advance trilateral free trade agreement (FTA) talks and enable substantial breakthroughs.

In addition to supporting the signing of the RCEP agreement next year, Mr Sung suggested that the three nations should substantially expand their cooperation in areas such as developing fourth-party markets and making breakthroughs in the fourth industrial revolution to cultivate new industries and growth points.

Against the backdrop of increased downward pressure on the global economy and rising protectionism, Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama stressed that it is important to reach a comprehensive, high-level and mutually beneficial FTA for the three economies and to support reform of the WTO to protect fair trade and globalisation.

Trade volume between the three countries exceeded US$720 billion (S$976 billion) last year, as they invested US$11 billion in one another's markets. More than 31 million individual cross-border trips were made, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea remained China's second-and third-largest trading partners, respectively, while China is the largest source of inbound tourists for both of those countries.

Mr Huo Jianguo, a researcher at the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges in Beijing, said that because China, Japan and South Korea are three major manufacturing powerhouses and outbound direct investors in Asia, a trilateral FTA should upgrade the level of trade liberalisation for cargo, services and investment, and it must be comprehensive, high-level and beneficial to all three.

"It will also tap the potential for trilateral economic and trade cooperation, enable deep integration of industrial chains and provide fresh momentum for the global economy," he said.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2019, with the headline China, Japan, South Korea to push for RCEP signing in 2020. Subscribe