Update: 08:05 | 19/04/2020
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) dialogue partners are advancing the review of legal texts, with an expectation of the process finishing in July so the pact can be signed at the ASEAN Summit in Vietnam later this year as scheduled.
Auramon Supthaweethum, Director-General of the Trade Negotiations Department under Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce, said the working panel handling the legal text-scrubbing for the pact has already finished six chapters and is working on the remaining 14 chapters.
Leaders of RCEP member states at the 3rd RCEP Summit in Thailand in November 2019.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put off most face-to-face meetings for ASEAN and the RCEP in the first half of the year, forcing dialogue partners to use video conferencing or virtual meetings to discuss scrubbing of the legal texts for the remaining chapters.
The first video conference was applied to the RCEP Trade Negotiation Committee meeting on April 7. The next video conference of the committee is scheduled for April 20-24.
The scrubbing of the legal texts for the pact should be finished by July so RCEP members have enough time for consideration before officially signing the pact later this year during the ASEAN Summit in Vietnam, Auramon said.
The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between ten member states of ASEAN and six dialogue partners, namely China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
Negotiations on the RCEP started in late 2012 at the 21st ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
In last-minute talks on November 4 last year, with Thailand as ASEAN Chair, India pulled the plug on joining the RCEP over unresolved issues, especially those concerning agricultural tariffs.
India later announced it would not be joining the pact this year during the ASEAN Summit in Vietnam.
The RCEP's leader statement noted that 15 participating countries have concluded text-based negotiations for all 20 chapters and market access issues.
The deal has been scheduled for official signing this year, coming into force either in 2021 or January 2022.
Auramon said signing the RCEP is crucial to the region, especially with the pandemic delivering a heavy blow to the world's economy.
Accounting for around 30 percent of the globe’s GDP and population, RCEP 15 remains a largest free trade agreement (FTA) in the world. Once becoming effective, it will bring out significant economic benefits to all 15 member states.