The negotiation of ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has been accelerated to ensure that the world’s largest economic block would be completed by the year-end.

“Every member has to increase their political will in order to overcome all challenges related to trade facilitation, non-tariff barrier and rule of origin,” said Dr Rebecca Sta Maria, Senior Policy Fellow, Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA). The Jakarta-based think tank advised the ASEAN Secretariat on economic matters pertaining to the ASEAN plus eight processes.

In an exclusive interview with The Myanmar Times, Rebecca said that all parties concerned are upbeat with the ongoing RCEP negotiation.

“It is the only game in town, given the current situation of the TPP,” she said.

Rebecca, a former senior Malaysian economic official, was referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a high-end free trade agreement with the US, which Washington was leading previously. After President Donald Trump took up his presidency last month, he ordered the US to pull out of the TPP. Now its future is in limbo. There are four ASEAN members that joined the TPP — Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Vietnam.

The RCEP is an ASEAN-led economic framework mapped out to engage the dialogue partners within the framework of ASEAN plus eight. Apart from the 10-member ASEAN, the remaining eight members are Japan, China, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and India.

RCEP has a more holistic approach to free trade agreement because it contains many rules and measures to assist less developed countries, especially among the new ASEAN members.

At the moment, the RCEP leading economies such as China and Japan are discussing what would be the final framework. The framework represents almost half of the world’s population, almost 30 per cent of global GDP and over a quarter of world exports.

The RCEP basic ideas are to forge comprehensive and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement that will cover trade in goods, trade in services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement and other issues.

Rebecca emphasised that the RCEP process is led by ASEAN, not China as many foreign reports often labelled. “It is an ASEAN idea, made in ASEAN,” she added.

ASEAN has entered its 50th anniversary with the Philippine as the current chair. The grouping launched the ASEAN Community in 2015 with the hope of transforming the 645-million population into the world’s fourth largest economy in the next two decades.


The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ASEAN Trade Union Council.