RCEP ministers: 2019 deal in sight, market access talks advancing swiftly

Negotiations for the RCEP trade and investment deal should be finalized by the end of 2019 and have seen notable progress on market access negotiations and services-related annexes, according to a statement issued in August by ministers from the 16 countries involved in the process.

The 16 countries include all 10 members of ASEAN, as well as their FTA partners, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. RCEP ministers wrapped up their eighth intersessional ministerial meeting on August 3, 2019, in Beijing.

Their joint media statement afterward highlighted “mutually satisfactory outcomes” for approximately two-thirds of the talks involving market access, without elaborating further. Other advances achieved in recent months include the finalization of talks on financial services, as well as on telecommunications and professional services, all three of which are captured in annexes to the RCEP text.

Prior to the meeting, Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham told the local Radio National station that RCEP talks are seeing “real momentum” and “political will” when it comes to finalizing negotiations in 2019.

Looking ahead, other RCEP trade officials have suggested that the deal’s signature could come next year, assuming the negotiations themselves do stick to the 2019 timeframe.

“Our progress right now stands at about 60 per cent, as we have finished negotiations on seven out of 20 main issues on the RCEP,” said Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit in comments to the Bangkok Post. The seven issues refer to the number of chapters completed in the overall negotiations, separate from the annexes. Another RCEP ministerial-level meeting is planned for September in the Thai capital city.