Trade ministers of the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are set to conclude modalities for liberalisation of trade in goods, services and investment at a two-day meeting ending Monday.

Ronnarong Phoolpipat, deputy director-general of Trade Negotiations Department and chief negotiator, said Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn assigned Winichai Chaemchaeng, vice-minister for commerce, to attend the third special meeting of RCEP trade ministers in Hanoi on her behalf, aiming to wrap up the final details on trade and investment liberalisation under the RCEP framework.

“At the meeting, trade ministers have to make the final decision on modalities that cover all facets, be it the opening of trade in goods, services, investment, intellectual property, state and state enterprises’ procurements, after which the agreement will be proposed at the leaders’ summit in November,” Mr Ronnarong said.

According to Mr Ronnarong, the 18th round of the RCEP trade negotiation committee held May 6-12 in Manila made good progress, with member countries proposing to open additional items to free trade such as industrial goods, agricultural products, processed food, petrochemicals, plastic pellets, textiles, frozen seafood, sugar, tapioca products, and canned vegetables and fruits.

Asean members were keen to push for the conclusion of negotiations this year and came up with new proposals, calling for the 16 dialogue members to cut import tariffs on 90% of products under the RCEP to zero within the next 15 years and gradually reduce tariffs on the remaining products later.

The RCEP was launched in November 2012 with the aim of establishing deeper economic cooperation among the 10 Asean members and six trading partners: China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

The member countries represent 29% of global trade.

The 16 countries have missed the deadline for concluding negotiations twice, in 2015 and last year.

The RCEP is now viewed as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — which excludes China and India and includes several nations of the Americas — after the US pulled out of the pact this year.

Twelve Pacific Rim countries led by the US concluded the TPP agreement on Oct 5, 2015. TPP countries make up 40% of global trade.

In 2016, Thailand’s total trade value with RCEP countries amounted to US$240 billion (8.48 trillion baht), accounting for 59.3% of Thailand’s total trade value.

Courtesy of Bangkok Post