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Breakthrough achieved to construct largest free trade area

A major breakthrough has been made in the construction of an East Asia free trade area, the largest in the world, Premier Li said at the 3rd Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit in Bangkok on Nov 4.

Leaders of relevant countries highly praised the breakthrough.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, also the rotating chair of ASEAN, said that it is crucial to global economic development and Indonesian President Joko Widodo said negotiating officials have found an intermediate zone in the past few days, while Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong regarded it as a historic moment and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison thought it is an important victory.

The 3rd RCEP Summit announced on Nov 4 that its 15 member states have concluded all text negotiations and essentially all market access negotiations.

Noting that the 15 member states have concluded negotiations and made arrangements for resolving outstanding issues after a seven-year process, the Premier said it marks a major breakthrough in the construction of an East Asia free trade area, which would boast the largest population, most diversified membership and greatest potential for development.

The RCEP, if reached, will be the largest free trade area in the world, covering 44 percent of the global population, 40 percent of global trade and 30 percent of global GDP.

Negotiations were started in 2012 and have sped up since 2017. At last year’s 2nd RCEP Summit, Premier Li said negotiations had come to the crucial moment, calling on related countries to complete negotiations as soon as possible.

During the previous seven-year negotiations, the interest and concerns of relevant parties have been fully considered, the Premier said on Nov 4, adding that negotiations will speed up regional economic integration and help countries join hands to withstand risks in the face of rising protectionism.

He further said that the RCEP, complying with WTO rules, will increase imports and exports for Chinese enterprises, improve their international competitiveness, promote domestic employment and expand interest for China to the utmost.

Several state leaders spoke positively about the RCEP.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the RCEP will make important contributions to regional opening-up as the most-populated free trade area with the greatest economic strength and South Korean President Moon Jae-in thought the RCEP will lower trade barriers and help enterprises to better cope with the downward pressures on the global economy, while New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern noted the accomplishment of RCEP negotiations will send an important signal to the world that they will persist in protecting free trade and a rules-based multilateral trading mechanism.

Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi said the conclusion of the negotiations will remove the shadow over the global economy under the current circumstances that major international economic and financial institutions have lowered expectations of global economic growth.

At the summit, Premier Li urged relevant parties to accomplish the negotiations concerning outstanding issues by the end of the year, prepare for the complete legal texts, and accelerate domestic procedures to guarantee the formal signature at the next year’s RCEP summit.

Also, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc called on intensified efforts to reach agreement, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo asked for joint efforts by all parties to realize the goal of officially signing the RCEP agreement in the next year.

Premier Li stressed that China will, in the spirit of mutual understanding and accommodation, work with other countries to address issues in the negotiations with India. India is welcome to join the partnership as early as possible.

The RCEP will not only be the largest free trade area in the world, but also an open one, the Premier noted, adding that China’s development experiences, accumulated since the reform and opening-up began over 40 years ago, proves that an open, fair and free-flowing trading environment would substantially boost the economy and improve people’s livelihoods, so the RCEP will benefit all peoples involved as well.

The joint statement issued after the summit declared that the RCEP will support the strong multilateral mechanism and promote the development of economies within the region, while enhancing the regions’ development prospects to contribute to the global economy.
Source: Premier of the Government of the People’s Republic of China

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