By THE NATION
With Thailand chairing the regional bloc this year, officials have set a year-end target for agreement on how the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will operate. The countries to join the Asean states in the multilateral free-trade framework are Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Department of Trade Negotiations, said that a negotiation committee for the RCEP has been meeting in Bali since February 19. The talks are scheduled to conclude on February 28. The meeting is the 25th to be held with the aim of the guiding the negotiations to a close.
The discussions involve seeking a conclusion to the pact’s 13 chapters, extending from trade in products, and services to investment, the rules of origin, trade remedies, the movement of natural persons and intellectual property, e-commerce, and competition laws.
Under this framework, seven chapters have been finalised. They cover sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical regulations, institutions, customs procedures and trade facilitation, government procurement, economic and technical cooperation, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
“After the Bali meeting, RCEP members will report the results to RCEP ministers in the seventh special RCEP ministerial meeting on March 2 in Siem Reap, Cambodia, for giving guidelines to the negotiation teams,” Auramon said.
“All parties are committed to seeing the negotiations reach their conclusion this year. Thailand, as Asean chair, targets to conclude RCEP negotiations before the end of this year and speed up the action plans further.”
She said Thailand has placed great stress on achieving a conclusion on the RCEP terms this year, and Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak had given policy direction to this end on February 8 when he visited officials at the Ministry of Commerce.
Somkid had told them that, with Thailand’s chairing of Asean, the country must speed up discussions with the other prospective member countries. He had cited the need for solutions to be reached and for the parties to set a balance of mutual benefits among the member countries.
During Thailand's term as Asean chair, three economic issues have been targeted for success this year, Auramon said. These are future orientation, enhanced connectivity that includes the target for RCEP’s conclusion this year, and for sustainability in all dimensions.
Adul Chotinisakorn, director-general of the Department of Foreign Trade, said that Asean has agreed to adjust the self-certification terms in the Asean Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) in major issues – a good track record, back-to-back self-certification and statement - at Asean's recent Inter-Session Meeting SC-AROO.
Earlier, Asean had a memorandum of understanding for two pilot projects on rules of origin, which later was combined into one project so-called the Asean Wide Self-Certification (AWSC). The project aims to promote self-certification and gain exporters' confidence.
After an adjustment on its estimated completion by July, AWSC is expected to come into force around March next year.
So far, 207 exporters have registered in the first pilot project and 110 exporters registered in the second stage of the pilot project.