THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and its trading partners should exert all efforts to move Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations forward, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said on Thursday.
“We need to take a collective stance and arrive at a clear consensus on the vital elements for this agreement,” he said during the opening of the 49th Asean Economic Ministers’ (AEM) Meeting.
RCEP, a proposed trade agreement that would cover Asean’s 10 member states and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, has been described as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has stumbled after the United States withdrew this year.
RCEP negotiations started in 2012 and the last round was held in India last July. Talks, however, have bogged down over market liberalization and reports have said that trade ministers could abandon a target of finalizing a deal this year.
“Let us not miss the opportunity of announcing a substantial conclusion of RCEP negotiations especially in November, or a significant breakthrough to culminate our celebration of Asean’s Golden Jubilee Year,” Lopez said.
He said that conclusion of RCEP negotiations remained high on Asean’s overall economic agenda and was a priority deliverable for the Philippines chairmanship of Asean this year.
“Given that we are only three months away from the Asean Leaders Summit in November, we are presented with a chance to continue the momentum during the Fifth RCEP Ministerial Meeting,” Lopez added.
He said that all eyes were on RCEP and how it would balance meaningful outcomes that benefit all parties while addressing economic sensitivities and circumstances.