By Genalyn Kabiling
NONTHABURI, Thailand — Several Asia Pacific countries are prepared to thresh out the “outstanding issues” raised by India about the proposed free trade agreement in a “mutually satisfactory way.”
Sixteen leaders of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) convened in a summit in Thailand to tackle the status of the China-backed trade proposal but the concerns of India have not yet been addressed.
“India has significant outstanding issues, which remain unresolved,” the RCEP leaders said in a statement after the summit Monday.
“All RCEP Participating Countries will work together to resolve these outstanding issues in a mutually satisfactory way. India’s final decision will depend on satisfactory resolution of these issues,” they added.
For now, only 15 RCEP nations have concluded the text based negotiations for the 20 chapters and essentially all their market access issues. The document will undergo “legal scrubbing” in preparation for the signing in 2020, according to the leaders.
The negotiations on the RCEP began in 2012 as the participating countries sought to achieve “a modern, comprehensive, high-quality, and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement.” The mega trade deal represents half of the world’s population and one-third of global economy.
“Against the backdrop of a fast-changing global environment, the completion of the RCEP negotiations will demonstrate our collective commitment to an open trade and investment environment across the region,” the leaders said.
The proposed free trade agreement aims “to further expand and deepen regional value chains for the benefits of our businesses, including small and medium enterprises, as well as our workers, producers, and consumers.”
“RCEP will significantly boost the region’s future growth prospects and contribute positively to the global economy, while serving as a supporting pillar to a strong multilateral trading system and promoting development in economies across the region,” the leaders said.
The meeting was attended by the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member-states, Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said 15 RCEP participating nations have until next year to settle the issues raised by India.
“India [is] now open to be identified as the one RCEP country that has pending issues on rules and market access,” said Lopez, who represented President Duterte during the RCEP summit.
“It is now clear only the 15 countries concluded for now since India has until next year to settle his remaining issues and decide if he can still sign with the 15 countries next year,” he said.
He remained hopeful that all 16 nations would sign the document next year. “The assumption now is that they are in, but must settle outstanding issues, and that we all want the 16 to sign next year,” he said.