RCEP rekindles free trade hopes

Lyna Mohamad in Tokyo, Japan

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations first took place in Cambodia in November 2012, while the first round of negotiations in Brunei were held in May 2013 while the first RCEP Summit was held in the Philippines in November 2017.

This was presented to the ASEAN media delegates who are currently in Tokyo, Japan under the Foreign Press Invitation Programme by an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) yesterday as part of the week-long programme.

RCEP will create an economic zone comprising approximately half of the world’s population, and about 30 per cent of the global GDP and world trade amid the growing protectionism globally, to deliver a strong message of promoting free trade toward the international society.

The RCEP promotes trade and investment in this region through improving market access. The partnership would support enterprises in non-tariff areas by establishing rules on customs procedures, intellectual property, electronic commerce and so forth.

There are 20 areas of negotiation – Initial Provisions and General Definitions, Trade in Goods, Rules of Origin (including annex on product specific rules), Customs Procedures and Trade Facilitation, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, Standards, Technical Regulations and Conformity Assessment Procedures, Trade Remedies, Trade in Services, which includes annexes on financial services, telecommunication services and professional services, Movement of Natural Persons, Investment, Intellectual Property, Electronic Commerce, Competition, Small and Medium Enterprises, Economic and Technical Cooperation, Government Procurement, General Provisions and Exceptions, Institutional Provisions, Dispute Settlement and Final Provisions.

ASEAN media delegates in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Tokyo, Japan yesterday

Japan has concluded the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Brunei and the main interest of the Japanese side is energy. “So we have a chapter on energy and mineral resources with Brunei,” said the official.

To date, 18 Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) and FTAs have come into effect/been signed with 21 countries where 51.6 per cent of total trade is conducted with countries with which EPA/FTAs have come into effect/been signed while 86.2 per cent of total trade is conducted.

Yesterday’s presentations covered Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP 11 Agreement), excluding parts of provisions, among the original participating countries other than the United States (US).

TPP 11 Agreement entered into force on December 30, 2018, 60 days after the notification of the completion of domestic procedures by six countries – Mexico, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and Vietnam.

The ASEAN-Japan cooperation was highlighted at the presentations including the initiative on overseas loan and investment for ASEAN where the speaker disclosed Japan’s aim to mobilise USD3 billion from public and private sectors over the next three years (2020-2022), including JICA’s overseas loans and investment amounting to USD1.2 billion.

This initiative covers loans and investments to Quality Infrastructure projects – promotion of infrastructure development in the ASEAN region such as electric power, water, urban infrastructure, transportation and information communication; Improving Financial Access and Empowering Women – promoting the empowerment of SMEs, women, low-income people by providing financial services such as microfinance and Facilitating Green Investment – promoting green investments such as solar and hydropower generation and energy conservation projects as part of the climate change measures.

On plans for promoting the empowerment of SMEs, women and low-income groups, the speaker said, “It was recently launched. We don’t have any projects on the programme yet,” adding that any ideas are welcome.

Brunei Darussalam is included in Japan’s projects for Peace and Stability in the Indo-Pacific region which covers Maritime Security and Safety – Search and Rescue.