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ASEAN Looks For Regional FTA Development

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

14 October 2013

During their 23rd Annual Summit on October 9 in Brunei, the Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reaffirmed their commitment to the realization of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015.

While the economic prospects for ASEAN member states – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – remain broadly positive, the Leaders reiterated the need to enhance their countries' competitiveness by deepening and broadening their economic integration. On that matter, they were encouraged by the progress made towards the AEC, where almost 80 percent of its Blueprint has now been implemented.

They welcomed the progress in trade and investment liberalization and facilitation initiatives in the region, such as the on-going work to address non-tariff measures and barriers, and the efforts to deepen services and investment integration through, respectively, the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services and the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement.

In particular, they also welcomed the progress in implementation of the ASEAN+1 FTAs with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, India and South Korea; the on-going negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which aims to bring together ASEAN's existing FTAs into a single comprehensive agreement; and the preparations for the ASEAN-Hong Kong FTA negotiations.

After its commencement in May this year, and the 1st RCEP Ministerial Meeting in Brunei in August, detailed work is now underway in the working groups on goods, services and investment, as well as in the development of a work program for the timely conclusion of RCEP negotiations by the end of 2015.

In addition to promoting the RCEP negotiations, the 16th ASEAN-China Summit in Brunei held on the same day also agreed to upgrade the ASEAN-China FTA (ACFTA), which originally came into effect on January 1, 2010. Discussions on the ACFTA upgrade will start as soon as possible, and will be targeted at further improving tariff levels.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who attended both the ASEAN and ASEAN-China Summits, had, in a media interview, noted that the ACFTA had already established the world's largest free trade area among developing countries. China, he said, has become ASEAN's biggest trading partner, while ASEAN is now also China's third largest trading partner. The plan now is to increase their two-way trade to USD500bn by 2015 and USD1 trillion by 2020, more than double the total trade of over USD400bn in 2012.

TAGS: tax | free trade agreement (FTA) | Brunei | tariffs | China | Laos | Philippines | Singapore | Thailand | agreements | Cambodia | Hong Kong | Indonesia | Malaysia | import duty | trade | Vietnam | services

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