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China-led RCEP trade talks to begin in May
April 25, 2013, 3:10 pm

The Sultan of Brunei Haji Hassanal Bolkiah at the 22nd ASEAN Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei [Xinhua]

The Sultan of Brunei Haji Hassanal Bolkiah at the 22nd ASEAN Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei [Xinhua]

The China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations will begin in May in Brunei, with a view to completing them by the end of 2015.

Brunei’s Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah made the important announcement at a press conference in Bandar Seri Begawan on Thursday.

“The RCEP negotiations will commence in May in Brunei Darussalam, and Brunei will play its part to facilitate the process,” Sultan Bolkiah said during the ongoing 22nd ASEAN Summit.

He said that ASEAN leaders looked forward to the starting of the RCEP negotiations, and broadening and deepening existing ASEAN+1 Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

“China has been supporting the central role of ASEAN since 1990s and will do so in future,” Minghao Zhao, senior fellow at the CPC think-tank China Centre for Contemporary World Studies, told The BRICS Post.

The RCEP would include all 10 ASEAN member states and the six FTA partners, namely China, Japan, South Korea, India, New Zealand and Australia, at the initial stage.

“The grouping covers about 3.3 billion people and accounts for 30 per cent of world trade. When it’s in place, it will be the largest free trade pact in the world,” Le Luong Minh, secretary-general of ASEAN said on Thursday.

The RCEP is expected to tackle trade in goods and services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition policy, dispute settlement, among others.

Meanwhile, the US approach to securing trade agreements in Asia may have garnered one paragraph in Obama’s state of the union speech in February, but Washington’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is likely strain relations with its most competitive rival China.

A major point of scepticism, some analysts say, is that the TPP appears to have a political agenda which the US has not yet made clear.

Some countries are troubled that the TPP could be used to rebalance Asia against China’s rising influence.

“RCEP represents a critical centrality of ASEAN in the course of regionalisation in the Asia-Pacific, and can not be ignored in the light of increasingly complex power games that are unfolding,” Zhao said in reference to US attempts to shore up support for the TPP.

The proposed free trade zones comprising the US and the EU and Washington’s Trans-Pacific Partnership talks intentionally exclude or target the BRICS wrote Peter Lavelle for The BRICS Post.

“The idea of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is to overtly counter China’s growing regional economy hegemony and keeping it from going global,” wrote Lavelle.

The BRICS Post