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Bangkok Post - 18 April 2020
RCEP partners press ahead with legal tweaks
By Phusadee Arunmas
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) dialogue partners are advancing the review of legal texts, expecting the process to finish in July so the pact can be signed later in the year during the Asean Summit as scheduled.
Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department, 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.
The coronavirus 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 such a 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 late in the year during the Asean Summit in Vietnam," Mrs Auramon said.
The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between the 10 member states of Asean and six dialogue partners: China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
Negotiations on the RCEP started in late 2012 at the 21st Asean Summit in Phnom Penh.
In last-minute talks on Nov 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.
India is concerned that the deal could affect the livelihood of its most vulnerable citizens and lead to a rising trade deficit and a flood of imports, especially cheap goods from China.
The RCEP’s leader statement noted that 15 participating countries have concluded text-based negotiations for all 20 chapters and market access issues.
With or without India, the RCEP deal has been scheduled for official signing this year, coming into force either in 2021 or January 2022.
Mrs Auramon said signing the RCEP is crucial to the region, especially with the pandemic delivering a heavy blow to the world’s economy.
The pact is expected to boost exports and upgrade Thai farm and food products, especially for sugar, processed food, tapioca, shrimp and rice, and create new trade and investment opportunities for Thai operators, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises.