Asia-Pacific trade pact agreed: ASEAN vows to focus on continuity, complementarity and creativity


Fifteen Asian countries have agreed to terms on Monday for what could be the world’s biggest trade pact, they said in a statement, but India delayed its decision on joining because of significant differences over tariffs and other issues.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is backed by China and also brings in the 10-member Asean, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Participating countries met in Bangkok alongside a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders.
“We noted 15 RCEP Participating Countries have concluded text-based negotiations for all 20 chapters and essentially all their market access issues,” the statement from the leaders said, to allow for signing next year.
A summit of the leaders of the RCEP left open the door for India to still join if it can resolve issues before the deal is set to be signed in 2020.
“India has significant outstanding issues, which remain unresolved… India’s final decision will depend on satisfactory resolution of these issues,” it said.
The United States-China trade war has given new impetus to years of discussions on the trade bloc. But India decided not to agree to it as it stands due to differences over tariffs, its trade deficit with other countries and non-tariff related barriers, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quoted as saying.
“Present form of the RCEP Agreement does not fully reflect the basic spirit and agreed guiding principles of RCEP,” Modi was quoted saying. “It does not address satisfactorily India’s outstanding issues and concerns.”
India has been worried that the agreement, which requires the gradual elimination of tariffs, would open its markets to a flood of cheap Chinese goods and agricultural produce from Australia and New Zealand that would harm local producers.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) concluded its 35th summit here on Monday, vowing to put its priorities on continuity, complementarity and creativity in the cause of the bloc’s development.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the goal of ASEAN is to move forward with dynamism to capture the benefits and opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution to promote partnership and connectivity within the region and with the international community and to bring about sustainability in all dimensions.
To ensure sustainability in ASEAN, the prime minister said, there must be three Cs, namely continuity, complementarity and creativity. Summing up the achievements in the past year, Prayut said ASEAN had worked for its people to enjoy greater sustainable security, to facilitate trade and to promote sustainability in the region through consolidating cooperation within ASEAN and between ASEAN and external partners for the benefit of the people, among others.
Also at the closing ceremony, the Thai prime minister ceremoniously handed over the gavel, the symbol of the ASEAN chairmanship, to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc whose country will assume the rotating chair of ASEAN for 2020.
Cohesive and responsive ASEAN is selected as the theme for the bloc in the year of 2020.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The 35th ASEAN summit was held here from Saturday to Monday with the theme Advancing Partnership for sustainability.

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