RCEP lead­ers hold first-ever sum­mit

Deal still elu­sive af­ter 5 years of ne­go­ti­a­tions

Bangkok Post - - NATIONAL - KY­ODO

MANILA: Lead­ers from 16 coun­tries in­clud­ing China, In­dia and Thai­land be­gan their first-ever sum­mit yes­ter­day to dis­cuss an East Asian free trade deal that has been seen as a China-led ri­val to the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship that Ja­pan has been try­ing to re­ju­ve­nate since the US with­drew ear­lier this year.

The gath­er­ing in Manila of lead­ers from the coun­tries in­volved in ne­go­ti­a­tions for the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship agree­ment is ex­pected to fo­cus on speed­ing up ne­go­ti­a­tions for the RCEP deal, which has not been con­cluded af­ter five years of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The meet­ing fol­lowed the 31st As­so­ci­a­tion of South East Asian Na­tions (Asean) sum­mit in Manila.

Apart from the 10 Asean na­tions, oth­ers in­volved in the RCEP deal are six of Asean’s FTA part­ners — Aus­tralia, China, In­dia, Ja­pan, South Korea and New Zealand.

To­gether, the group en­com­passes a pop­u­la­tion of 3.4 bil­lion peo­ple and a com­bined GDP of US$49.5 tril­lion, or ap­prox­i­mately 39% of the global econ­omy.

Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte yes­ter­day urged the RCEP lead­ers to pro­vide the po­lit­i­cal mo­men­tum to ur­gently bring the ne­go­ti­a­tions to a close.

The “chang­ing global eco­nomic land­scape re­quires us to ur­gently bring the ne­go­ti­a­tions to a close”, he said in his open­ing re­marks at the start of the sum­mit.

The RCEP will be one of the largest trade pacts in his­tory, cov­er­ing al­most half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion and more than one-third of the global gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

Five years since its launch, there has been five min­is­te­rial meet­ings and 20 rounds of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

RCEP trade min­is­ters, who held a prepara­tory meet­ing a few days ear­lier, agreed to try to wrap up the talks next year, hav­ing missed dead­lines for three years in a row, in­clud­ing this year.

How­ever, it is not clear if the lead­ers of RCEP coun­tries will in fact be able to set or an­nounce a new tar­get date for com­plet­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions in 2018 as the ne­go­ti­a­tions are com­pli­cated, and In­dia is against do­ing so, one Asean source said.

“We have agreed that the RCEP should com­plete ne­go­ti­a­tions in 2018,” In­done­sian Min­is­ter of Trade Eng­gar­ti­asto Lukita told Ky­odo News af­ter a meet­ing in Manila among trade min­is­ters from the coun­tries in­volved in pur­su­ing the RCEP free trade agree­ment ear­lier this week.

Mr Lukita said he urged RCEP coun­tries with ex­ces­sively high stan­dards to re­duce their ex­pec­ta­tions and be “more re­al­is­tic and flex­i­ble”.

“The prin­ci­ple of flex­i­bil­ity is im­por­tant,” an­other source said. “We are so di­verse, we have de­vel­oped coun­tries, de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, we have emerg­ing economies, so we have to be re­al­is­tic.”

Mean­while, dur­ing the Asean-Canada Sum­mit yes­ter­day, Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau re­it­er­ated his coun­try’s de­sire to join the RCEP sum­mit plus to be able to en­gage with its mem­bers on strate­gic, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic is­sues.

“We are ready to con­trib­ute to Asean’s suc­cess in an in­creas­ingly glob­alised world by join­ing the East Asia Sum­mit ... at the ear­li­est op­por­tu­nity,” he said.

“As un­prece­dented dy­namic growth is driv­ing South­east Asia’s im­por­tance on the world stage, it is crit­i­cal that we build this progress and that we ex­pand this part­ner­ship,” said Mr Trudeau, whose coun­try’s en­gage­ment with Asean dates back 40 years.

Canada be­came an Asean “di­a­logue part­ner” in 1977 and is one of only 10 coun­tries with this im­por­tant level of part­ner­ship.

Mr Trudeau also re­it­er­ated Canada’s de­sire to be ad­mit­ted to the Asean De­fence Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing-Plus, or ADMM-Plus, which has been held since 2010 to strengthen se­cu­rity and de­fence co­op­er­a­tion, and com­prises the same 18 mem­bers.

MANILA: Wrap­ping up his ex­ten­sive tour of Asia, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump yes­ter­day hailed “tremen­dous amounts of work’’ on trade and said na­tions around the globe have been put on no­tice that the US will de­mand im­proved trad­ing con­di­tions.

Mr Trump told re­porters in Manila that the “fruits of our labour are go­ing to be in­cred­i­ble’’. He was clos­ing a nearly twoweek trip through Ja­pan, South Korea, China, Viet­nam and the Philip­pines that in­cluded one-on-one meet­ings with the lead­ers of those na­tions dur­ing which he stressed trade.

The pres­i­dent, who cam­paigned on shred­ding mul­ti­lat­eral trade agree­ments he has deemed un­fair, in­sisted dur­ing his trav­els that multi­bil­lion-dol­lar deficits that favour US trad­ing part­ners will be re­duced to zero, and that trade over­all must be fair and mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial.

“The United States has to be treated fairly and in a re­cip­ro­cal fash­ion,” Mr Trump tweeted be­fore head­ing back to Wash­ing­ton, where he was sched­uled to ar­rive later yes­ter­day. “The mas­sive TRADE deficits must go down quickly!’’

Mr Trump told re­porters be­fore de­part­ing an in­ter­na­tional sum­mit, “We’ve had a tremen­dously suc­cess­ful trip. Tremen­dous amounts of work was done on trade.”

The pres­i­dent spoke on the side­lines of the an­nual East Asia Sum­mit of lead­ers from through­out the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, his final sum­mit af­ter at­tend­ing an Asean gath­er­ing on Mon­day. Mr Trump said he planned to make a “ma­jor state­ment’’ about his trip from the White House later this week, and spoke of the “many good friends’’ he made dur­ing the trip.

Among Mr Trump’s new­est friends in the re­gion is Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, whom Mr Trump re­peat­edly praised and joked around with on Mon­day. Mr Duterte has over­seen a bloody crack­down on do­mes­tic drug deal­ing that has fea­tured ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, earn­ing him scorn from hu­man rights ad­vo­cates.

Mr Trump did not pub­licly take Mr Duterte to task for the crack­down. In­stead, Mr Trump said he and Mr Duterte have “had a great re­la­tion­ship’’ and avoided ques­tions about whether he would raise hu­man rights con­cerns with the Philip­pines leader dur­ing a pri­vate meet­ing.

The White House later said they dis­cussed the Is­lamic State group, il­le­gal drugs and trade dur­ing the 40-minute meet­ing. Press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said hu­man rights came up “briefly’’ in the con­text of the Philip­pines’ fight against il­le­gal drugs. She did not say if Mr Trump was crit­i­cal of Mr Duterte’s pro­gramme.

Her read­out ap­peared to con­flict with the Philip­pine ver­sion of the meet­ing. Harry Roque, a spokesman for Mr Duterte, said: “There was no men­tion of hu­man rights. There was no men­tion of ex­trale­gal killings. There was only a rather lengthy dis­cus­sion of the Philip­pine war on drugs with Pres­i­dent Duterte do­ing most of the ex­plain­ing.’’

De­spite all that, they later is­sued a joint state­ment say­ing they “un­der­scored that hu­man rights and the dig­nity of hu­man life are es­sen­tial, and agreed to con­tinue main­stream­ing the hu­man rights agenda in their na­tional pro­grammes”.

Mr Duterte’s war on drugs has alarmed hu­man rights ad­vo­cates around the world who say it has al­lowed po­lice of­fi­cers and vig­i­lantes to ig­nore due process and to take jus­tice into their own hands. Govern­ment of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that well over 3,000 peo­ple, mostly drug users and deal­ers, have died in the on­go­ing crack­down. Hu­man rights groups be­lieve the vic­tim to­tal is far higher, per­haps closer to 9,000.

In Manila for the Asean con­fer­ence, and the sub­se­quent East Asia Sum­mit, Mr Trump looked to strengthen ties with Pa­cific Rim al­lies, aim­ing to strike oneon-one trade deals rather than multi­na­tional trade agree­ments, and in­crease pres­sure on North Korea to aban­don its nu­clear pro­gramme.

He met with In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and high­lighted their two na­tions’ “deeper and more com­pre­hen­sive” ties, look­ing to strengthen a re­la­tion­ship that is vi­tal to the US vi­sion of an Indo-Pa­cific re­gion that at­tempts to deem­pha­sise China’s in­flu­ence.

He jointly met with Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull, with whom he had a con­tentious phone call last win­ter, and Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, who hosted the pres­i­dent in Tokyo ear­lier in the trip. Mr Trump raved about his ac­com­plish­ments on his five-na­tion jour­ney, par­tic­u­larly on trade and on North Korea.

Mr Trump said he would wait un­til he was back in Wash­ing­ton to elab­o­rate with a “ma­jor state­ment’’ on those two top­ics, but hinted at progress while in Manila.

“We’ve made some very big steps with re­gard to trade — far big­ger than any­thing you know,’’ Mr Trump told re­porters, point­ing to busi­ness deals forged be­tween US and for­eign com­pa­nies.

Mr Trump also said the trip had been “very fruit­ful’’ for the United States and pointed to the warm wel­comes he had re­ceived in cap­i­tals like Tokyo, Seoul and Bei­jing. “It was red car­pet like no­body, I think, has prob­a­bly ever re­ceived,’’ Mr Trump said. “And that re­ally is a sign of re­spect, per­haps for me a lit­tle, but re­ally for our coun­try. And I’m re­ally proud of that.”


FROM LEFT TO RIGHT Malaysia’s Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak, Myan­mar’s State Coun­sel­lor Aung San Suu Kyi, Thai­land’s Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-ocha, Viet­nam’s Prime Min­is­ter Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Canada’s Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte and Sin­ga­pore’s Per­ma­nent Sec­re­tary of For­eign Af­fairs Chee Wee Kiong hold hands for a group photo dur­ing the Asean-Canada 40th an­niver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tive sum­mit in Manila, the Philip­pines, yes­ter­day.


Protesters burn a US flag dur­ing a rally against US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in Manila yes­ter­day.

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