DOUBTS OVER RCEP’S YEAR-END DEADLINE
Disagreements over several issues making it hard to complete discussion stage
HANOI and New Zealand as well as Southeast Asian nations.
The RCEP talks, which began in 2012, have been given new impetus by the United States withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
But officials involved in the talks said the target to complete the discussion stage by year-end might be hard to meet given disagreements over several issues.
India in particular was reluctant to give up on tariffs, they said.
“They are concerned that major tariff elimination will cut revenue and their competitive position, especially against China,” said an official
Another official said India’s position posed the biggest challenge in yesterday’s talks.
The main focus of RCEP was reducing tariffs, although not as many would be cut to zero as under the TPP agreement.
Coverage of services and the digital economy are more modest than for the other agreements and it would have no protection for labour rights or the environment.
While it may have provisions for greater freedom of movement, this is one of the potential sticking points in discussions.
“We are making progress but its still a long way to go,” said New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay.
“There was a renewed desire to find a way to a high quality outcome. But it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get it done by the end of the year.”
Yesterday’s meeting followed heated discussions during the weekend at the first gathering of trade ministers from Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation countries since US President Donald Trump’s switch to an “America First” agenda. Reuters