The 16 economic ministers of Asean+6 have agreed to finalise the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership by 2015, when the Asean Economic Community takes full effect.
“The ministers agreed that this free-trade agreement should be a single schedule of commitment that should not be separately negotiated by some countries,” Thai Commerce Minister Niwatthumrong Boonsongpaisan said yesterday.
The ministers from 16 countries joined their first ministerial meeting and the 45th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting in Brunei this week.
The RCEP will become the largest free-trade area with 3.35 billion people, or more than half of the world population. Its gross domestic product would be US$17.1 trillion (Bt538 trillion), or 27 per cent of global GDP. Combined trade is worth $740 billion, he said.
The RCEP comprises the 10 ASEAN nations and China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand.
The second round of RCEP negotiations by officials is set for September 23-27 in Brisbane, Australia.
During the AEM meeting in Brunei, ASEAN member states also agreed to encourage each country to cut at least one non-tariff barrier a year.
Malaysia and Indonesia were urged to reduce their high duties on alcoholic beverages by 2015. If both countries do not want to cut import tariffs, they should at least lower excise taxes to show their sincerity in dismantling trade barriers.
Vietnam and Cambodia have been called on to minimise duties on petrochemical products.
Asean countries have been advised to accelerate integration plans for the AEC. The ministers also agreed to the 10th pact of service business liberalisation among ASEAN members. -Petchanet Pratruangkrai, The Nation
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