The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a FTA negotiation that has been developed among 16 countries: the 10 members of ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam) and the six countries with which ASEAN has existing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) – Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand. In relation to RCEP these six non-ASEAN countries are known as the ASEAN Free Trade Partners (AFPs).
The participants in the RCEP FTA negotiations have a total population of over 3 billion people and a trade share estimated at around 27 per cent of global trade (based on 2012 WTO figures), covering GDP of around $US21 trillion (2013 IMF figures).
RCEP countries account for 60 per cent of New Zealand’s goods exports (2013 figures).
RCEP negotiations were launched by the Leaders of the 16 participating countries in the margins of the East Asia Summit on 20 November 2012. Leaders announced that RCEP would be “a modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement establishing an open trade and investment environment in the region to facilitate the expansion of regional trade and investment and contribute to global economic growth and development”. See here for the Leaders' Statement launching the negotiations. See here for Prime Minister John Key's media release.
The participants have developed Guding Principles for the negotiations. These were approved by Economic Ministers on 30 August 2012 and endorsed by Leaders and provide a roadmap for negotiators.
RCEP is a significant step in the evolution of trade policy frameworks in East Asia over the past decade. RCEP’s history reaches back some 10 years, starting as a study process for an FTA between ASEAN, China, Japan, and Korea (known as ASEAN+3). This was complemented from 2007 with a parallel study process for an ASEAN+6 FTA, which included the ASEAN+3 partners plus Australia, India, and New Zealand. Both these study processes concluded in 2011 following which ASEAN put forward the RCEP concept.
New Zealand is pleased to be part of this major trade initiative in the dynamic East Asian region. Asia is an increasingly critical source of growth, markets, and innovation for New Zealand. The potential benefits for regional value chains are expected to have a positive impact on New Zealand’s ability to do business in the region and around the world.
New Zealand’s existing concluded FTAs will remain in place. At the same time, RCEP will involve the creation of new FTA relationships where they do not already exist. It will draw together the strands of ASEAN’s various FTAs, and also overlap some current bilateral and plurilateral negotiations. In addition, RCEP may offer an opportunity for New Zealand to improve at the margin on some of our existing agreements.
Following a preparatory process, the participating countries began formal negotiations in May 2013. RCEP will cover trade in goods, trade in services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement/legal and institutional issues and other issues to be identified during the course of negotiations.
The first round of RCEP negotiations was held from 9-13 May in Brunei Darussalam. Good progress was made towards meeting the target of concluding the negotiations by the end of 2015.
The Brunei meetings took place in a positive and constructive atmosphere. Three working groups were established – on Goods, Services and Investment. Discussions included how to plan the way forward in these three areas. The parties also had an initial exchange of views in the other areas covered by the Guiding Principles.
Overall, the ground was prepared for further progress to be made at Round 2.
Negotiations for the RCEP FTA continued to make good progress at Round 2, in Brisbane from 23-27 September 2013.
Discussion continued on the structure and elements of the services chapter, with initial views exchanged on possible market access commitments in a range of areas of interest to the participants. In goods, among other things dedicated sessions were convened on Customs Procedures, Rules of Origin, and useful initial exchanges on the modalities for tariff negotiations and on non-tariff barriers to market access. Sub-Working Groups were established on Customs Procedures and Rules of Origin. Discussions occurred on elements to be covered in investment.
Discussions also took place on competition policy, intellectual property, economic and technical cooperation and dispute settlement. Information was also presented on other issues that could be included in the RCEP FTA, on which further consideration will be needed. In addition, a seminar on Competition Policy was held with presentations by international speakers.
The third round of RCEP negotiations was held in Kuala Lumpur 20 – 24 January 2014. At the meeting the 16 participating countries continued technical work on trade in goods, trade in services, and investment.
In Trade in goods, participating countries had a constructive discussion on the modalities for the tariff negotiations, on non-tariff measures, Standards, Technical Regulations and Conformity Assessment Procedures (STRACAP), Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) as well as on Customs Procedures and Trade Facilitation (CPTF) and Rules of Origin (ROO).
On Trade in services, participating countries discussed the structure and elements of the RCEP Services Chapter, areas of market access interests and a number of specific issues at good length. On Investment, participating countries exchanged views on investment modalities and deliberated further on the elements for the RCEP Investment Chapter.
In order to advance negotiations on the broad range of issues four further working groups were established, on Intellectual Property, Competition, Economic and Technical Cooperation, and Dispute Settlement. Some participating countries, including New Zealand, made presentations on other issues that may be identified and mutually agreed in the course of negotiations for inclusion among the issues to be covered by RCEP.
Two Seminars were held on the sidelines of the round. Malaysia and Japan presented on a broad range of Intellectual Property (IP) issues, including how IP supports trade and investment. Australia organized a seminar on the cross cutting areas of Services and Investment.
The 4th round of RCEP negotiations took place in Nanning, China 31 March – 4 April 2014. The participating countries continued intensive discussion on a range of issues to advance the negotiations.
Participating countries engaged on the development of trade in goods texts, intensified consideration of modalities to be used for tariff negotiations and continued discussions on non-tariff measures, Standards, Technical Regulations and Conformity Assessment Procedures (STRACAP), Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) as well as on Customs Procedures and Trade Facilitation (CPTF) and Rules of Origin (ROO).
On Trade in services, participating countries deliberated on the elements of text, the scope of provisions, the approach to scheduling market access commitments, market access commitments, and a number of other specific issues. On Investment, participating countries engaged in discussions on text, and an in-depth discussion on the elements including investment modalities.
At the Nanning meeting, the new working groups on Intellectual Property, Competition, and Economic and Technical Cooperationcommenced their work. Other issues of particular interest to a number of RCEP participating countries were discussed. Experts met to discuss Dispute Settlement and broader legal and institutional issues. A formal working group will be established to continue these discussions at the next meeting.
The 5th Round of the RCEP Negotiation was held in Singapore between 21 and 27 June 2014. Discussions to define the scope and parameters of the negotiation continued.
Negotiators are working hard on frameworks for shaping meaningful commitments in the core areas of goods, services and investment.
Progress was made by working groups on the structure and elements for chapter text for Trade in Goods, Trade in Services, Investment, Intellectual Property, Competition, and Economic and Technical Cooperation. A Legal and Institutional Issues group met for the first time. Negotiators also discussed a range of other issues of particular interest to some RCEP participants for possible inclusion in the negotiations.
On Trade in Goods, some further convergence was achieved on key issues such as the modality for the tariff negotiations. Goods negotiators continued to discuss how RCEP might tackle non-tariff measures. Formal negotiations began in the areas of Standard, Technical Regulations and Conformity Assessment Procedures (STRACAP) and on Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS). Customs Procedures and Trade Facilitation (CPTF) and Rules of Origin (ROO) progressed technical work.
On Trade in Services, work has also advanced in building understanding and finding possible way forward on some key issues such as the structure and elements of the Services Chapter and scheduling of commitments.
On investment, negotiators have also made progress especially with regard to the approach to the scheduling of commitments.
On Saturday 21 June there was an open forum attended by officials from some RCEP countries and academia on 21 June 2014. On 23 June 2014, officials held sessions with the East Asia Business Council (EABC) and the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia.
The Economic and Trade Ministers from RCEP’s participating countries will meet in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar on 27 August to assess the progress of the negotiations and provide guidance.
The sixth round of RCEP negotiations took place on 1-5 December in New Delhi, India.
The round started with an opening speech from the Secretary of the Ministry of Commerce (and former Lead Negotiator), Rajeev Kher, followed by India’s Minister of Commerce Ms Sitharaman (the first time a minister from any participating country has addressed an RCEP meeting). Negotiators also met with representatives from the Indian business community.
There was solid progress in Economic and Technical Cooperation (ETC) and Intellectual Property. There was good progress in Competition and Technical Barriers to Trade (Standards, Technical Regulations and Conformity Assessment Procedures, STRACAP in RCEP parlance). Customs Procedures and Trade Facilitation also advanced relatively rapidly. Services continued to focus on scheduling methodology. Investment made some progress with the completion of an initial read through of all text proposals. On Goods, negotiators continued to discuss ways forward towards agreeing a modality for initial tariff offers.
The seventh round of the RCEP negotiations took place in Bangkok, Thailand on 9-13 February 2015. Further progress was made on the modalities for initial offers for tariff elimination in goods and the framework for scheduling in services. There was also good progress in most of the remaining areas of the negotiation, notably Competition. Negotiators continue to work to seek to ensure that outcomes are meaningful. Investment made some progress, including in discussing a roadmap for progress in 2015.
Discussions on cross-cutting issues including small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and e-Commerce took place in the sidelines of the round. Joint sessions were also held on other issues like non-tariff measures, trade remedies and government procurement.
The eighth round of the RCEP negotiations took place in Kyoto, Japan on 5-13 June 2015. This round saw important, albeit slow, progress made in key areas, notably modalities for initial offers in goods and services. A Ministerial meeting will take place on 13th July 2015 to address these issues. Investment made some progress with discussion of a roadmap for the tabling of initial offers and subsequent negotiations.
Intellectual property made good process this round, and negotiations continued in Competition, Economic and Technical Cooperation and Legal and Institutional Issues. New Zealand presented a paper on Private Standards. Side-meetings were held on Electronic Commerce and an informal seminar on Government Procurement. Business representatives from a number of participating countries spoke to negotiators in two separate sessions about the importance of NTMs, rules of origin, and other trade facilitating measures for making RCEP a business-friendly and commercially meaningful agreement.
The ninth round of negotiations will take place in August 2015 in Myanmar.
Tuesday, 30 June 2015