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Governments a step closer to signing comprehensive free trade agreement

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A protestor burns placards during a demonstration against the Indian government’s plan to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), in New Delhi on November 4. AFP

Governments a step closer to signing comprehensive free trade agreement

Participating countries are expected to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a mega trade bloc, in November next year, a senior Chinese official said on Monday.

Related countries are expected to complete legal reviews by June next year, Zhang Shaogang, director-general of department of international economic and trade affairs, said at the Ministry of Commerce’s year-end meeting.

The RCEP, a proposed free trade agreement among 16 nations, is hailed as what would be the world’s largest trade bloc.

During the meeting, Zhang identified three steps to advance RCEP consultations. “The first step is to finalise the remaining talks. At present, what remains are bilateral negotiations, and most of them are technical details that won’t affect the final conclusion of the agreement,” Zhang said. “Relevant countries will complete legal reviews by June next year.”

For the second step, governments or parliaments of related countries may take about three to four months to review the pact, Zhang said.

Finally, the parties are expected to sign the agreement at the RCEP leaders’ meeting in November next year. “China is confident about the official signature as planned,” he said.

The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations: Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, as well as Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, India and the Republic of Korea. Negotiations were formally launched in 2012.

On November 4, 15 member states of the RCEP essentially concluded all negotiations on market access. India did not sign the agreement on that day. Analysts said India was worried that opening its economy would undermine its already fragile domestic manufacturing base.

Zhang said all parties of the RCEP understand the concerns of India, and the door was always open to the Asian country for consultations. “China is willing to resume talks with India at any time and at any place, in an effort to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement,” he said.

Liang Xi, an analyst with Haitong Securities, said: “Once the RCEP is signed, tariff and non-tariff barriers will be removed, which will help stabilise foreign trade and investment.”

The move will be beneficial for many enterprises, for instance textile manufacturers, as material costs would decline, Liang said.

In another development, the ministry said that China’s foreign trade volume is likely to hit a new high of over 30 trillion yuan ($4.3 trillion) for the whole year.

Li Xingqian, head of the ministry’s foreign trade department, said China’s export growth rate is higher than the overall level of major global economies.

Private enterprises have played a prominent role, with the proportion of exports going up by 3.5 percentage points to 51.5 per cent in the first 11 months, Li said.

China’s trade with the Belt and Road economies accounted for 29.3 per cent of the total, according to Li.

While external uncertainties are likely to persist, he said the ministry is confident in ensuring steady and quality development of the country’s foreign trade.

China Daily/ANN

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