Talks on FTA between Asean and 6 partners at critical stage now

Negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have reached a critical juncture, and ministers will review their progress on the sidelines of next week's Asean Summit in Manila, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon told Parliament yesterday.

The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) among the 10 Asean countries as well as six partners - China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Since the launch of the negotiations in November 2012, there have been 20 formal negotiating rounds and eight RCEP ministerial meetings, Dr Koh noted.

To date, two chapters have been concluded - on economic and technical cooperation, and small and medium-sized enterprises. In September this year, ministers endorsed a guidance document on key elements for significant outcomes by the end of the year.

"The negotiators are engaging extensively on challenging and complex policy matters," he said, adding that this relates to areas such as market access and routes.

RCEP parties are aiming to improve the regional business environment through the reduction of non-tariff barriers and non-tariff measures to facilitate trade and investment flows across their countries, he highlighted.

Negotiations are also ongoing to provide an effective, efficient and transparent process for dispute settlement.

"While there is steady progress in the negotiations, finding a landing zone that is acceptable and agreeable to all RCEP parties on numerous issues remains a gradual and complex process.

"Singapore will do our part to facilitate the process where possible, but the final position between third countries is ultimately dependent on their own calculations," he said.

"Singapore remains committed to work closely with our RCEP counterparts to bring the agreement to fruition."

Nisha Ramchandani

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2017, with the headline 'Talks on FTA between Asean and 6 partners at critical stage now'. Subscribe