World Economy

ASEAN Ready for Trade Pacts

ASEAN Ready for Trade PactsASEAN Ready for Trade Pacts

ASEAN is keen to conclude a region-wide trade agreement with its key partners, but the pact must have substance to be worthwhile, said Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday.

This means that countries involved in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership must be willing to make difficult trade-offs so that the agreement will be credible and of a high quality, he added, Yahoo reported.

Speaking to Singapore reporters after attending the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Lee said: “We hope to have a good RCEP and not just an RCEP.” He also said he was not optimistic that negotiations, already two years past its original 2015 deadline, would be concluded this year.

During a meeting with fellow ASEAN leaders earlier, he had urged them to conclude negotiations on the agreement speedily, but not set the bar too low.

Asked to elaborate in an interview, Lee said ASEAN already had separate free trade agreements with some of the non-ASEAN countries involved in the deal: China, India, Japan and Korea. To add value, the RCEP cannot be the equivalent of these deals “superimposed on top of each other”, he said.

“So there are difficult trade-offs, but unless we are prepared to make some of these difficult trade-offs, I think the RCEP risks becoming much ado about nothing and that will really be a big pity,” he added, while acknowledging that different countries have different calculations and perspectives.

For instance, India has pushed for the liberalization of the services sector, particularly for the easy movement of workers, as a condition for opening up its goods markets, but this a “very sensitive matter for many other countries,” he said.


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