Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

Southeast Asian summit puts focus on trade tensions, trends

India,China,trade deal Not only is the US absent from the deal but Donald Trump is skipping the summit in Singapore
Leonard Rios | 15 November, 2018, 12:14

Apart from agreeing to work closely to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) swiftly, Singapore and China also signed a multitude of economic agreements, such as the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (CSFTA) Upgrade Protocol, which aims to give businesses easier access to the Chinese market.

Singaporean Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in his remarks that it was the region's first agreement to facilitate cross-border e-commerce transactions, which were expected to encourage ASEAN countries to promote paperless transactions.

China was now the standard bearer of global free trade, he added, with the RCEP - a sweeping 16-country deal that includes China, Japan, India and the 10 Asean members of the - at the heart of its strategy.

On Fintech, Mahathir said it is beginning to gain a stronghold in the region with investments rising 33% from 2015 to US$252 million in 2016, as reported by Ernst & Young.

Trade diplomats said negotiations will run deep into 2019.

US Vice President Mike Pence will attend the Singapore meetings instead of President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly panned existing multilateral trade pacts as unfair and has railed against China over intellectual property theft, entry barriers to American businesses and a yawning US trade gap.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has skipped several meetings at an worldwide summit in favour of "power naps", prompting his office to issue a statement denying speculation that the 73-year-old is suffering to ill health.

Trump's security adviser, John Bolton, told reporters on Tuesday that the ASEAN meetings tended to be relatively flexible and Pence's schedule was still being decided, but that some would be aimed at preparing for a meeting between China's president and Trump at the G-20 meeting in Argentina later this month.

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"With the rise of protectionism and strains on free trade, we need to advance the RCEP negotiations and an agreement that is anchored on World Trade Organisation rules", Li said.

"We made significant progress, (but it) is not the final conclusion", New Zealand Minister of State for Trade and Export Growth Damien O'Connor told reporters late Monday.

Mr Duterte did, however, turn up to the ASEAN-China summit that was held earlier on Wednesday morning with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. But stumbling blocks remain, including India's reluctance to open up its markets, particularly to Chinese firms.

The deal was given extra impetus after Trump pulled the U.S. out of the rival Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Dr Mahathir spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the 33rd Asean Summit and related summits in the city-state.

Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said: "Many of the problems do not lie within Asean's control but relate to the relations between larger countries, like between India and China, which is subject to both trade and political considerations".

The ASEAN summit, which formally opened Tuesday afternoon, is expected to sweep in trade, maritime disputes and the Rohingya crisis.

These three reefs, known as Big Three, are among the features claimed by the Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

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