Singapore, other stakeholders reaffirm plans to sign mega-trade deal this year

SINGAPORE and other stakeholders have reiterated that they plan to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) mega-trade deal this year, even as the deadly novel coronavirus pandemic throws the global economy into disarray.

They also stressed, after their latest virtual ministerial meeting, that “the RCEP remains open for India”, which backed out of talks in November 2019 while citing unresolved “significant issues”.

That’s according to a statement on Tuesday from Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which includes Singapore.

Saying that the deal’s importance has grown amid the pandemic, these governments added that getting it signed “will serve as a clear signal of our unwavering support for the multilateral trading system, regional integration as well as economic development across the region”.

After India’s departure from the negotiating table, Singapore Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations S Iswaran called for other parties to “keep the door open for India to come in at the appropriate time, but without compromising the disciplines and protocols that we have all agreed to”.

“India has been an important participant in the RCEP negotiations since the launch in 2012,” these remaining countries have now said in their latest statement. “We believe that India’s participation in RCEP would contribute to the advancement and prosperity of the region.”

The RCEP participants also said that, with the Covid-19 pandemic posing “an unprecedented challenge for trade, investment and global supply chains”, they have agreed to enhance cooperation and coordination to enable recovery and growth after the crisis.

The RCEP will be the biggest trade pact in the world when brought to fruition, as it will involve countries that together make up one-third of global gross domestic product.

The Republic is also part of another mega-trade bloc - the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was inked in 2018 among Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

But, in a blow to regional trade ambitions, US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the original Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement in January 2017, soon after his election.