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ASEAN set to conclude RCEP talks this year



The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is committed to concluding talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) this year, according to ASEAN Secretary-General Datuk Lim Jock Hoi.

Hoi said the leaders of the regional bloc had mandated the RCEP talks' conclusion this year.

The RCEP is a free trade deal involving 10 members of the ASEAN and six of the group's existing free trade partners - Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.

"ASEAN reiterates its full commitment and priority to bringing RCEP negotiations to a conclusion this year," Lim told an ASEAN-India business conference here on Tuesday.

The RCEP talks started in 2012 and would create a free trade area covering 3.5 billion people when concluded.

Lim said India is ASEAN's sixth largest trading partner and their trade would receive a significant boost from the RCEP.

Reducing tariffs is one of the key areas of the proposed pact.

"The ongoing negotiations of RCEP stand at the center of ASEAN external relations," Lim said.

With the 16 participating countries accounting for half of the world's population, about 30 percent of trade, and one-fifth of global investment flows, the RCEP offers "tremendous potential to generate employment, enhance growth and inclusive development, and promote innovation," the ASEAN leader said.

India, as part of its "Act East" policy of developing close relations with the ASEAN, is keen to boost its services exports to Southeast Asia and wants to attract more Asian investment.

ASEAN-India trade almost doubled between 2006 and 2016.

According to official Indian figures, the country's trade with ASEAN increased to USD70 billion in the 2016-17 financial year from USD65 billion in 2015-16.

Bernama / PNA