Asean remains resolute in pursuing stronger economic cooperation with China, Japan and South Korea in the face of growing tensions in the global economy, Singapore's Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said yesterday .
In opening remarks at the Asean Economic Ministers (AEM) Plus Three Consultations, he said ongoing trade tensions among major economies as well as the advent of new technologies and the digital economy have made it critical for Asean and these three nations to stay committed to deepening and broadening economic linkages.
The consultations between Asean and these Plus Three countries are taking place on the sidelines of the AEM Meeting at the Shangri-La Hotel this week.
Asean has free trade deals with each of these three countries, which are also signatories of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade pact that also involves Australia, New Zealand and India.
"We have collectively stepped up efforts to substantively conclude the RCEP negotiations," Mr Chan said.
"Asean looks forward to working constructively and pragmatically with China, Japan and Korea to deliver good outcomes for the RCEP negotiations by the end of this year."
In an opening speech at the AEM Meeting on Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the talks on RCEP had reached a critical stage.
The deal would create the world's largest trading bloc, covering one-third of the world's gross domestic product, or about US$17.23 trillion (S$23.5 trillion).
Mr Chan also said in his remarks yesterday that amid the rapidly changing geo-political environment, "we should collectively uphold the multilateral trading system and maintain our commitment to free and open trade".
The meetings between the Asean economic ministers and China, Japan and Korea were aimed at taking stock of the progress made so far in economic relations.
The ministers also discussed new areas of collaboration and the Asean Plus Three Economic Cooperation Work Programme for 2019-2020, which will guide cooperation over the next two years.
Last year, total trade between Asean and the Plus Three countries increased by 16.1 per cent to US$807 billion, representing 31.6 per cent of Asean's total merchandise trade.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) flows from the Plus Three countries into Asean stood at US$29.9 billion last year, accounting for 21.8 per cent of total FDI inflows into Asean.