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Thailand: Asean Centrality in focus

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Thai PM confident of concluding negotiations on RCEP by year-end despite slow progress.

Thailand is confident that negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will be completed by the end of the year following major progress made during the Asean Summit over the weekend, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who chaired the summit, said. 
Thailand aims to conclude two additional chapters to the trade agreement by early July. So far, seven of the 20 RCEP chapters have been negotiated. Thailand is looking to show progress by closing two chapters by next month after negligible progress in the first six months under its leadership. 
The mega-trade deal, which brings together the 10 Asean nations along with China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, has been stuck in negotiations for the past seven years. Once completed, it will be the largest multilateral trade deal in history.
“All Asean countries recognise the importance of completing the RCEP negotiations by the end of this year amid rising protectionism and trade tensions,” Prayut said yesterday at a press conference.
He said Thailand was confident of concluding the negotiations phase of the RCEP by the end of the year.
“The RCEP will enhance the centrality of the Asean region, connecting countries in the Indian subcontinent with those in the Asia-Pacific region, acting effectively as the centre of Asia,” he claimed.
“When the deal is successful, the 16 RCEP countries will form a multilateral trade bloc which represents a large portion of the global economy. This will increase Asean’s negotiating power with other countries in the future,” the prime minister said.
In 2018, trade between the RCEP countries represented up to a third of global trade. Thailand’s trade value with the RCEP countries was worth some US$70 billion in 2018. Thailand’s exports to the RCEP countries currently account for 58 per cent of its total exports, according to the Commerce Ministry.
Yesterday, trade officials headed to Melbourne, Australia, where the 16 RCEP countries will meet from June 25 to July 3 to resolve outstanding issues. 
“Our target is that at least two chapters be closed out by the end of the senior economic officials’ meeting on RCEP in Melbourne,” Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Commerce Ministry’s Department of Trade Negotiations (DTN), said on the sidelines of  the weekend summit.
The meeting in Melbourne, she said, would address all the 13 outstanding chapters and two chapters will be in particular focus. These two chapters include one on rules of origin of goods and another on trade in financial, telecom and professional sectors.
Auramon expects negotiations on these two chapters to be settled at the end of their trip to Melbourne, adding that currently the Asean region has established a common position on nearly all the remaining 13 RCEP chapters. 
The key challenges, she said, are the chapters on trade in goods, trade in services and intellectual property standards.
The matter of trade in goods and services presents a challenge, as there are countries like China and India, which do not have a bilateral free trade agreement. This means that details on trade in goods and services between these countries have to be discussed without a free trade agreement framework to build upon, according to the trade official. 
Meanwhile, there are different standards between developed economies and less developed economies on intellectual property protection, which will need to be resolved, she explained. For example, developed economies such as Japan, Australia and South Korea have a high standard on intellectual property regulations, which other less-developed economies may struggle to meet.

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