BANGKOK, Nov 2, 2019, Bangkok Post. Chances of a major regional free trade deal being finalised by the end of this year appeared to be fading on Saturday as negotiators continued to haggle over details at the Asean summit in Bangkok, Bangkok Post reported.
Discussions on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) won’t be completed until February because one major country isn’t ready, Philippine Trade Minister Ramon Lopez told reporters.
He said the country — which he didn’t identify — wanted to “have confirmation before they can totally agree”. While Mr Lopez didn’t identify the country, Bloomberg reported this week that India had made last-minute demands after having earlier agreed to terms of a deal.
The leaders of the 16 nations involved are now expected to commit to signing an agreement on creating the world’s largest free trade area in 2020 in a joint statement to be released after their scheduled summit on Monday, Kyodo News quoted a source close to the talks as saying.
The RCEP includes the 10 Asean states along with China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Negotiations began in 2012 and were originally expected to finish by the end of 2015. But they have dragged on far longer than anticipated, in large part because of disagreements between India and China over how much access should be allowed to each other’s markets.
Thailand had hoped to wrap up its year as the Asean chair with a major diplomatic achievement by announcing the agreement in Bangkok on Monday.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post, said his country wanted to see a more ambitious approach to trade in on services from the RCEP negotiations.
“We have put forward reasonable proposals in a clear manner and are engaged in negotiations with sincerity,” he said.
India has long pushed for other countries to allow greater movement of labour and services in return for opening its market of more than 1 billion people to certain goods.
Thai Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit said earlier on Saturday that a joint statement on the RCEP would be released later in the weekend. “That will be the shared opinion of all countries,” he told reporters.