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Jakarta Post

ASEAN members step up consolidation for RCEP

  • Bagus BT Saragih

    The Jakarta Post

Singapore   /   Thu, February 27, 2014   /  11:58 am

Topics related to the preparation and follow-up negotiations of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) '€” touted as the largest free trade area in the world '€” are likely to be on the table when Southeast Asia'€™s economic ministers meet during the 20th ASEAN Economic Ministers Retreat in Singapore on Thursday.

The RCEP, which comprises the 10 ASEAN member nations as well as China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand, would integrate all of ASEAN'€™s existing free-trade agreements into one scheme. It would account for a third of the world'€™s gross domestic product (GDP) with total trade reaching US$740.5 billion and combined GDP amounting to $21.2 trillion in 2012.

The RCEP is estimated to give income gains of approximately $644 billion by 2025, equal to 0.6 percent of the world'€™s GDP, due to the faster flow of goods, services, investment and labor across participating economies, according to a study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

As for Indonesia, the deal will push GDP up by more than 1 percent in the designated time line for forging the partnership.

'€œIndonesia, as the chair of the RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee [TNC], must play a significant role in pushing the scheme forward, as the negotiations are targeted to conclude by 2015,'€ Djatmiko Bris Witjaksono, director for ASEAN cooperation at the Trade Ministry'€™s international trade cooperation directorate general, said on Wednesday.

He said that representatives from participating countries were expected to have an intensive exchange of views in order to advance the RCEP negotiations.

Other crucial issues to be discussed in the meeting, according to Djatmiko, would include strengthening preparations ahead of the 2015 ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) implementation as well as some issues with ASEAN'€™s partners.

'€œAs the biggest economy in the region, Indonesia also aims to ensure the strengthening of ASEAN'€™s regional economic integration ahead of and post 2015, when the AEC takes full effect. At the same time, all of the processes must also be synergized with our domestic developments,'€ he added.

Indonesia'€™s delegation will be led by the newly appointed Trade Minister Muhammad Luthfi, who was scheduled to arrive in Singapore on Wednesday evening.

This will be his first international role representing Indonesia in a multilateral forum since being appointed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to replace Gita Wirjawan, two weeks ago.

Djatmiko said Indonesia would also highlight the finalization of the services and investment chapters of the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership (AJCEP).

'€œASEAN and Japanese leaders have largely agreed on ASEAN-Japan services and investment chapters but we still have minor problems such as tax-related regulations and other legal matters in some countries. We are aiming to settle all of these this year,'€ he said.

The RCEP is an ambitious scheme, first initiated during the 2012 ASEAN Summit in Cambodia. But it was first mentioned during Indonesia'€™s ASEAN chairmanship in 2011.

The RCEP is said to be a '€œbalancing mechanism'€ against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which also includes four ASEAN members, namely Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam and Malaysia. But some analysts said they believed the TPP and RCEP could be mutually-reinforcing as parallel tracks for regional integration.

On the sidelines of the ministers'€™ retreat, other meetings such as the ASEAN Caucus on the ASEAN-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement (AHKFTA) were also held. The AHKFTA is also expected to be implemented in 2015.

The next RCEP negotiation round is scheduled to be held in China in April.

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