Singapore’s Prime Minister boasts of big progress on RCEP negotiations

World Today

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addresses delegates during the opening ceremony for the 33rd ASEAN Summit and Related Summits Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Singapore. The summit is expected to discuss the South China Sea issue, maritime security and terrorism. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Day 3 of this year’s ASEAN summit wrapped up with economic cooperation, trade, and maritime disputes dominating the day’s discussions.

CGTN’s Miro Lu filed this report from Singapore.

RCEP Summit

Substantial progress has been made in negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The announcement was made by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as ASEAN and its regional partners came together for the 2nd RCEP summit.

In his opening statement, Prime Minister Lee announced negotiations had concluded in seven out of 18 chapters, and those significant breakthroughs were secured in rules-based items. While he acknowledged the completion of the deal took longer than expected, he acknowledged the unique challenges to negotiating on what he called a mega-FTA.

“Complexities are to be expected as we are a group of diverse economies and for a number of us, this will be our first FTA with each other,” the prime minister said. “But when concluded the benefits will be equally substantial.

Lee expressed concern that further prolonging negotiations would put the RCEP at risk of losing credibility and support. The leaders now wish to bring the RCEP to its full conclusion in 2019.

ASEAN Summit

It was free trade that headlined the ASEAN – China Summit, which took place earlier in the day. Both the Singapore Prime Minister and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang echoed each other on the importance of the upgraded ASEAN-China free trade agreement. Premier Li expressed how the ratification of the renewed commitment would open up opportunities for businesses, and increase two-way trade between ASEAN and China.

The highly contentious issue of territorial disputes in the South China Sea also found prominent mention in Premier Li’s opening remarks. He said that China and ASEAN have been working to properly manage differences and maintain peace and stability in the region.

“This year, thanks to the concerted efforts from all the parties, we have reached the single draft negotiating text, and we have agreed to finish the first reading of the text in 2019,” Premier Li said. “On that basis, China is ready to work with all ASEAN countries towards concluding code of conduct consultations in three years time”

China’s push for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, however, has come under severe criticism from the United States. The matter is also likely to come up for debate during the East Asia Summit, which brings together ASEAN and its partners (including the U.S. and China).

Einar Tangen discusses what to expect from the ASEAN Summit

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