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Asean+6 set to finalise free-trade pact by 2015

Talks making progress for seamless market of 16 countries

Asean and six of its major trading partners, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, have agreed to finalise the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by next year, resulting in the world's largest free-trade agreement.

The pact will create a seamless market among 16 countries, liberalising trade, services and investment, as well as promoting closer economic cooperation, protection of intellectual property rights, increasing competitiveness, and establishing a dispute-settlement mechanism.

After a recent meeting in Malaysia of the RCEP working committee, Somkiat Triratpan, deputy director-general of the Thai Commerce Ministry's Trade Negotiations Department, said the talks had progressed on many issues. The RCEP will group the existing bilateral trade agreements in the region and expand some cooperation to ensure liberalisation in all areas.

The next meeting on the RCEP will be held in Nanning, China, in April.

According to the department, the value of total trade between Thailand and the RCEP group is about US$255 billion (Bt8.36 trillion), or 56 per cent of all Thai trade. Once it is in place, the RCEP should be able to increase that figure, according to its supporters.

A study by the department and the Thailand Development and Research Institute found that after the RCEP is ratified, the country's gross domestic product would increase by 4.03 per cent. Thai products that will enjoy more trade liberalisation are mainly processed fruits and vegetables, processed food, electrical appliances, electronic goods, auto parts, rubber and plastic.

During the meeting in Malaysia, the committee discussed many issues such as market liberalisation, tariff reduction, non-tariff measures, rules of origin, customs procedures, trade facilitation, sanitary and phytosanitary standards, and industrial-goods standards.

They discussed the sectors that would be liberalised, and the pattern of investment liberalisation. Moreover, they talked about technical and economic cooperation, intellectual-property rights, and dispute settlement.


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