ASEAN is committed to conclude talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) this year as mandated by the Southeast Asian bloc’s leaders, Secretary-General Datuk Lim Jock Hoi said.

The RCEP is a free trade deal involving 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (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 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 key areas of the proposed pact.

“The ongoing negotiations of RCEP stand at the centre of ASEAN external relations,” Lim said.

With the 16 participating countries accounting for half the world’s population, about 30 per cent 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 chief said.

India as part of its “Act East” policy of developing close relations with 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 US$ 70 billion in the 2016-17 financial year from $65 billion in 2015-16.

Source: NAM News Network

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