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China trying for regional trade pact by 2015, says Li

Publication Date : 11-04-2014


Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Thursday that Beijing will work to speed up the pace of China-backed trade negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, trying to have the pact inked by 2015.

Li, who spoke at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Boao Forum for Asia, called on all nations in the region to unite to promote trade liberalisation and to facilitate investments.

"An economic integration is in the common interests of all the nations," Li said. He also suggested a feasibility study be conducted on the proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific to maximise trade and investment interests in the region.

Li noted that China holds an open attitude toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the two agreements should complement and reinforce each other, although they shouldn't contradict the multinational principles of the World Trade Organisation.

"The principles of the RCEP, an international organisation that has the most member countries, are in line with the Asian industrial structure, economic pattern and social conventions," he said.

Li Ruogu, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of China, said on Thursday that many bilateral and regional free trade talks are going on simultaneously because it is difficult for a large number of countries to sit together to reach an agreement.

"As a result, many countries started multilateral or bilateral talks to enjoy the benefits of free trade sooner," he said. "Some countries could reach free trade agreements first and welcome other countries to join when conditions are ripe."

The TPP talks were initiated by Singapore, New Zealand, Chile and Brunei in 2005, but have been dominated by the United States after it joined the talks in 2008.

The RCEP will include all 10 members of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations and the six FTA partners - China, Japan, South Korea, India, New Zealand and Australia, in its initial stage.

"It's true that there's a trend of fragmentation of free trade talks," said Finance Minister Lou Jiwei. "Various FTAs have different targets. Some are very ambitious, which means the negotiations are at a high risk of failing. The RCEP is not that ambitious, but it does require relevant countries to compromise and promise to undertake domestic structural reforms to finalise the negotiation," he said.

While the TPP and RCEP are frequently described as rival trading blocs led by the US and China, respectively, some experts said the TPP can be seen as a US attempt to derail China's accommodation into the regional and global trading system. Others warned that such treaties would reshape the structure of the Asia-Pacific economy and could possibly affect political ties between the United States and China.

"The RCEP and TPP are of quite different scale and with very different potential. China is now a far more dynamic force in world trade than the US, so an RCEP would have much greater potential than the TPP," said John Ross, a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing.

In 2013, China's imports rose by $132 billion, compared with a rise of $30 billion for the European Union and drops of $8 billion for the US and $53 billion for Japan, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. China's imports, therefore, rose four times as much as the EU, while the US and Japan were declining import markets, Ross said.

"The TPP, even if it is concluded, will be a relatively stagnant trade bloc, whereas an RCEP including China would be far more dynamic," he said.

When the RCEP is in place, it will be the largest free trade pact in the world.


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