RCEP to be signed by end of Asean Summit


SENIOR Minister and International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali (picture) has reaffirmed that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is almost concluded and expected to be signed at the end of the Asean Summit this Sunday.

The Asean economic ministers met yesterday for the 19th Asean Economic Community (AEC) Council Meeting as part of the virtual 37th Asean Summit.

“We are concluding and hopefully signing the RCEP towards the end of this summit on Sunday,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur after the end of yesterday’s meeting.

Azmin said the discussions and consultation on the RCEP have been ongoing for the last 10 years.

“According to the (RCEP discussion) team, they have put so much effort to get a consensus among the Asean member states and also our dialogue partners,” he said.

“I must acknowledge that our team, together with the support of the member states of Asean and our dialogue partners, have been working tirelessly to ensure that we should reach a consensus at this summit, and this is a positive development.

“The RCEP free trade agreement (FTA) would benefit Malaysia and we want to see how Malaysia can ride on this agreement. This is going to be the largest FTA that we have ever signed,” he said.

Azmin said Malaysia currently has Asean+1 FTA with China, as well as agreements with Japan, South Korea and many other dialogue partners.

However, the intention of having RCEP, he said, is to amalgamate and streamline all these FTAs into one platform and agreement that would facilitate the investors and also traders who are coming into Malaysia, as well as the Asia-Pacific region.

“So, certainly that would help the investors to have bigger market access and we would be able to facilitate the investments among the members of RCEP.”

On the withdrawal of India’s participation in RCEP, Azmin said Malaysia, as well as the Asean member states and dialogue partners, would continue to engage with India as the republic is a vital trading partner not only to Malaysia, but also to Asean.

“Once India decides to join or to continue with the discussions, we would certainly welcome its participation, but for now we have reached a consensus that with or without India, we will continue with the signing of RCEP,” he added.

Meanwhile, at the event yesterday, Azmin led the Malaysian delegation to discuss tangible solutions and the way forward to support the recovery of economies in the region by keeping markets open for trade and investment.

The proposed Asean Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF) and its implementation plan were approved by the ministers and will be submitted for the Asean leaders’ endorsement today.

“This will serve as a guide to Asean to provide sustainable solutions for economic recovery,” said Azmin, adding that the ACRF would help Malaysia intensify the intra-Asean trade and investment, as well as accelerate the region’s digital transformation to boost economy and improve societal wellbeing, post-Covid-19.

The meeting also discussed the Preliminary Report of the Mid-Term Review of the AEC Blueprint 2025 as presented by the Asean Secretariat and endorsed the 12 preliminary recommendations for implementation.

Matters related to the IR4.0 and digital technology were also discussed.

“Malaysia is confident that the consolidated strategy will be able to provide a strategic framework for Asean’s work on the IR4.0 by setting the agenda and direction for the coming years,” he said.

On the Asean e-Commerce Agreement, Azmin stressed that its implementation will bring systemic improvement and enhancement to the digital economy ecosystem, as well as corroborative facilitation to the Asean cross-border goods and services trade.

Immediately after the meeting, the Asean economic ministers signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the Implementation of Non-Tariff Measures on Essential Goods under the Hanoi Plan of Action on Strengthening Asean Economic Cooperation and Supply Chain Connectivity in Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Azmin represented Malaysia in signing the MoU, which comprises 152 identified essential goods in the categories of food, medicines and medical appliances, personal protective equipment and disinfectants.

“The MoU will ease the movement of these essential goods within the Asean region to ensure an unobstructed supply chain within the region,” he said.