A group picture of delegations from the 16 participating countries who attended the 4th RCEP Intersessional Ministerial Meeting held in Singapore on March 3. (Photo: Ministry of Trade)

JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories) – Ministers from 16 East Asian countries negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have made progress at a meeting in Singapore on Saturday (05/03).

The meeting pushed the regional free trade deal closer to a conclusion, which the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and some other members hope to reach by the end of the year.

RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between the ten member states of the ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and the six states with which ASEAN has existing free trade agreements (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand).

The joint RCEP statement issued after the meeting said the ministers “reaffirmed their resolve to meet their leaders’ instruction to intensify efforts in 2018 toward the conclusion.”

But it added that the negotiators noted “divergence on the levels of ambition in some areas and tasked negotiators to work out creative, innovative and pragmatic landing zones.”

Meanwhile, in ASEAN Economic Ministers’-European Union (AEM-EU) Trade Commissioner 16th in Singapore, Minister of Trade Enggartiasto Lukita outlined that the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) agreement between ASEAN and Europe Union (EU) can contribute in developing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and address the negative campaigns of palm oil.

“The FTA agreement between ASEAN and EU should contain programs that can advance the sector MSMEs. Items from the FTA Agreement must also be able to help counter the top negative campaign the palm oil sector. Both sectors are very important for Indonesia as it is a sector the main driving force of the Indonesian economy, ” said Lukita in the meeting.

He stressed the importance of cooperation between the two region and the need for a deeper discussion of the framework agreement in the FTA these two areas.

“The implementation plan of the ASEAN-EU FTA negotiations still requires a negotiating framework precise and mature considering the differences in readiness and ambition of these two regions, ” he said.

ASEAN and EU cooperation continues to grow as seen from the increase of trade value as well as investment between the two areas that grow consistently. Based on statistical data from the EU, ASEAN-EU trade value reached EUR226.6 billion in 2017, up 9.1 per cent from the previous year.

The EU is also the largest source of Foreign Direct Investment in ASEAN in 2016 with a value of EUR26.3 billion. It shows the importance of cooperation between the two regions.

Email: elisa.valenta@theinsiderstories.com