China, 15 other Asian nations to start trade talks
Posted in the China Forum
#1 Apr 28, 2013
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (AP)-- China and 15 other Asia-Pacific nations will kick off the first round of free trade talks next month to create one of the world's largest trading blocs, officials said Thursday.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is a rival pact to the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade initiative involving a dozen countries but that excludes China. Both the pacts underline competition between the U.S. and China for influence in Asia.
At the end of a two-day gathering in Brunei on Thursday, leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations said in a statement that negotiations on the comprehensive partnership will commence next month in Brunei "with a view to completing them by 2015."
Negotiators from the 16 countries will meet for five days from May 9 in Brunei to outline the scope of talks in the areas of goods, services and investment.
The comprehensive partnership covers Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam plus that grouping's six key trading partners China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India. The Southeast Asian grouping of countries already has separate free trade pacts with the six nations.
Officials said the comprehensive free-trade pact, flagged by East Asian leaders at their summit in Cambodia just five months ago, was an expected outcome of efforts to merge various free trade agreements in the region to maximize the economic benefits.
With the bustling region of 3.3 billion people accounting for about a third of the world economy, a successful accord could significantly bolster trade and investment.
Some analysts said the complexity of the various trade agreements that need to be welded together means the comprehensive agreement will sacrifice an aggressive lowering of trade barriers to ensure a consensus is reached by the 2015 deadline.
It will have a narrower scope than the Trans-Pacific pact and doesn't cover issues such as intellectual property rights, reform of state-owned enterprises or regulatory standards, said Sanchita Basu Das, economic researcher at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
"It will not be a gold-standard agreement," she said.
Under the comprehensive pact's guidelines, special and differential treatment is allowed for poorer nations such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. At the same time, flexibility clauses also allow members to drop trade policies with which they disagree and exclude sensitive industries from competition.
While such flexibility makes it more attractive for developing nations to join the grouping, critics said it could also be a roadblock to greater integration and a handicap for countries unwilling to reform.
#4 Apr 28, 2013
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