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Asean summit: India's Modi seeks more on services to complete trade deal

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Asian business and political leaders in attendance include Japan's Shinzo Abe, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes.

[BANGKOK] Leaders from across Asia are seeking a breakthrough in talks on the world's largest regional trade pact as meetings hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) get underway on Saturday in Bangkok.

The China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has been jeopardised by last-minute requests from India after it earlier agreed to terms. Leaders had planned to announce a preliminary deal on Monday, paving the way for countries to finalise details on the legal framework of an agreement that would cover one-third of the global economy.

Asian business and political leaders in attendance include Japan's Shinzo Abe, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien lead the US delegation, which has been downgraded from previous years.

Here's the latest (all times local):

INDIA WANTS GREATER AMBITION ON SERVICES (11.10AM)

India's Mr Modi said his country wants to see greater ambition on services even as it remains "committed to a comprehensive and balanced outcome" from ongoing RCEP negotiations.

"We have put forward reasonable proposals in a clear manner and are engaged in negotiations with sincerity," he said in an interview with the Bangkok Post. "We would like to see commensurate levels of ambition on services from many of our partners, even as we are ready to address their sensitivities."

The prime minister, who was ferried around the venue outside Bangkok on a golf cart, added that India was clear that a mutually beneficial RCEP was in its interests and those of all partners in the negotiations. India has long pushed for other countries to allow greater movement of labor and services in return for opening its market of more than 1 billion people to certain goods.

AIRASIA GAINING FROM TRADE WAR (10.51AM)

Business is benefiting from the US-China trade battle as more Chinese people are forgoing travel to America and coming to Asia, the AirAsia head told reporters. Mr Fernandes added that revenue from Hong Kong had dropped by 30 per cent month on month over a period of two to three months, as protests continue to roil the financial hub.

"Any free trade is good," Mr Fernandes said when asked about RCEP. He could invest much more in Asean if there was a single window of entry, he said.

RCEP STATEMENT TO COME LATER (10.07AM)

Thai Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit said a joint statement on RCEP would be released later in the weekend, as has been expected. "That will be the shared opinion of all countries," he told reporters.

Negotiators had met the past few days in an effort to reach a conclusion.

REGION HAS ‘HUGE' OPPORTUNITIES (9.58AM)

Asean brands and companies have "huge" opportunities given global headwinds from the US-China trade war, Brexit and fluctuating commodity prices, AirAsia's Mr Fernandes told a business conference in Bangkok. The Asean digital economy has the potential to add US$1 trillion to gross domestic product by 2025, he said, but added that the region lacks a unified custom clearance.

Mr Fernandes also said AirAsia would build an Asian fast food restaurant chain, opening first in Kuala Lumpur and then followed by Bangkok.

SATURDAY HIGHLIGHTS

Speeches are planned by Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi.

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