A ministerial meeting of Japan, China, South Korea and 12 other countries participating in negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was held via videoconference on Wednesday, and final arrangements were made for the agreement to be signed at its summit meeting on Sunday.
When the agreement comes into force, it will be a multilateral free trade agreement that also includes the ASEAN member states and accounts for about 30 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Trade with RCEP member countries accounts for nearly 50 per cent of Japan’s total trade value. This will be the first free trade agreement with China and South Korea, which will provide a boost to exports of agricultural and other Japanese products.
The meeting was held behind closed doors with Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama in attendance. It is believed that in addition to finalising the agreement’s consistency with the domestic laws of each country, the ministers also confirmed that special provisions will be made to allow India, which withdrew from the negotiations last fall, to return at any time.
At the beginning of the meeting, Vietnamese Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh indicated that the agreement will be signed soon.
“We are approaching a historic phase, our goal,” he said. “We have successfully reached a conclusion.”
After about eight years, the negotiations have almost concluded and the countries are expected to make a final confirmation of the agreement before signing it at a videoconference on Sunday.
The agreement consists of 20 areas, including the reduction and elimination of tariffs, rules for electronic commerce and the relaxation of restrictions on foreign investment. Since developed and emerging countries, whose economic development greatly differ, will be participating in the agreement, it will not seek uniform cuts in tariff rates or rules.
Japan is also expected to exclude imports of “five key commodities”, such as rice, beef and pork, from the tariff review.
The new agreement will not allow negotiations by new members for 18 months after it comes into effect. However, in light of the fact that India had been a member from the start of the negotiations, the member countries intend to prepare a special document to allow India to return to the agreement at any time through special measures.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (JAPAN)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK