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RCEP negotiations at critical juncture: Koh Poh Koon

THE Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations have reached a critical juncture, with the RCEP ministers to review the progress of negotiations at the sidelines of the 31st Asean Summit in Manila next week, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Koh Poh Koon, in Parliament on Tuesday.

The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) among the 10 Asean countries as well as six partners - China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Since the launch of the negotiations in November 2012, there have been 20 formal negotiating rounds and eight RCEP ministerial meetings, he noted. To date, two chapters have been concluded - the economic and technical cooperation, and the small and medium enterprise (SME) chapters. In September this year, the RCEP ministers endorsed a guidance document, which outlines key elements for significant outcomes by the end of the year.

"The negotiators are engaging extensively on challenging and complex policy matters," he said, adding that this relates to areas such as market access and routes.

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He went on to say that the RCEP parties have tabled second revised offers across goods, services and investments.

For investments, RCEP parties continue to discuss the reservation lists with the aim of further improvements.

Apart from market access and investments, RCEP parties are aiming to improve the regional business environment through the reduction of non-tariff barriers and non-tariff measures to facilitate trade and investments flows across RCEP countries, he highlighted. Regular consultations are held with the business community as well as at the national level by individual RCEP parties with stakeholders to identify non-tariff measures to be addressed in the agreement.

Negotiations are also ongoing for a dispute settlement mechanism, which will be included in the RCEP, to provide an effective, efficient and transparent process for dispute settlement.

"While there is steady progress in the negotiations, finding a landing zone that is acceptable and agreeable to all RCEP parties on numerous issues remains a gradual and complex process. Singapore will do our part to facilitate the process where possible, but the final position between third countries are ultimately dependent on their own calculations," he said.

"Singapore remains committed to work closely with our RCEP counterparts to bring the agreement to fruition."