7th RCEP inter-sessional ministerial meet calls for meaningful outcome

New Delhi: A total of 16 ministers negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement on Saturday called for addressing specific sensitivities while working towards achieving commercially meaningful outcomes.

The mega trade deal is being negotiated by 16 countries–the 10-member ASEAN group (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), besides their six free trade pact partners–Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.

Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu attended the 7th RCEP Inter-Sessional Ministerial Meeting held at Siem Reap in Cambodia. It was chaired by Chutima Bunyapraphasara, Acting Minister of Commerce of Thailand, and reviewed developments since the 2nd RCEP Summit held on November 14, 2018, in Singapore.

About 25 rounds of talks have been concluded so far but the members are yet to finalize the number of goods on which customs duty will be eliminated. Issues are also pending in the services sector as India is demanding greater flexibility to promote trade in services.

“The ministers recalled the leaders’ determination to conclude a modern, comprehensive, high quality and mutually beneficial RCEP in 2019, and resolved to exert utmost effort to achieve this target,” said a joint statement issued after the meeting.

It said the ministers commended the RCEP Trade Negotiating Committee for the progress on both market access and text-based negotiations, but at the same time recognized that more work needs to be done to advance both aspects of the negotiations.

“The ministers urged all RPCs to address specific sensitivities while working towards achieving commercially meaningful outcomes. The ministers remained confident that with collective commitment and pragmatism, the chapters and annexes that would comprise the RCEP Agreement can be concluded soon.”

The ministers said it is the collective responsibility of all participating countries to ensure progress by overcoming negotiation challenges and finding a resolution to the remaining issues through constructive engagement.