Looming RCEP deal could help unlock conclusion of Trans-Pacific FTA

South Korea has joined 15 other countries in holding fresh talks on a regional free-trade agreement to be held in Myanmar next month, when it is hoped that a cross-Asia RCEP deal will make significant headway in unexpectedly quick time.

Officials of the countries intend to step up efforts to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations, which began in 2012. 

The meetings have involved South Korea, Japan, China and the 10 members of Asean, as well as Australia, New Zealand and India.

If agreed, they would form the largest regional trading bloc in the world, accounting for 45% of the world population, with a combined GDP of US$21.4tr. 

The next round of talks will be the ninth surrounding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and come amid hopes of for a major breakthrough after earlier talks.

"There is a sense of urgency for a deal among the participating countries as they have set a deadline for negotiations at the end of the year," said South Korea’s deputy trade minister, Woo Tae-hee. "The countries are making considerable efforts to move their negotiations forward.”

The new round of RCEP negotiations, scheduled for August 3-7, will be followed by a special meeting of the countries’ trade ministers in Kuala Lumpur three weeks after the initial meeting begins.

In the last meeting, held in Malaysia earlier in July, Thailand urged members to waive tax on 85% of all imports over the next decade. 

Taiwanese Premier Mao Chi-kuo said his country’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is also currently being negotiated by some of the members of the RCEP group and some North and Latin American countries including the United States, could only make joining the RCEP “relatively uncomplicated”. 

Mao said: “The threshold for joining the TPP is higher; if a country’s participation in it could be accomplished, entry into the RCEP would be a relatively straightforward task.” 

He added that Taiwan’s long-term economic policy seeks to assimilate the country into the international community. At present, Taiwan wishes to sign free-trade agreements with trade partners and join regional trade blocs, Mao said. 

The premier also promised to carry out measures to accelerate joining the TPP.

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source: Food Navigator