Plans to sign the world’s largest free trade pact at a regional summit in Bangkok have been thrown into doubt after objections from India. China, hurt by its trade war with the US, is keen to see the deal finalized.
An agreement to create the world’s largest trade bloc will be signed by Asian countries in 2020, the Thai government said Monday. Thailand, which is hosting the three-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Bangkok, had previously said it hoped to conclude negotiations on the trade deal by the end of the year. Read more: Free trade in Asia in the age of protectionism The new trade area, known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), involves the 10 ASEAN members, plus China, Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and South Korea. If implemented, it would be the world’s largest free trade bloc, comprising nearly half the world’s population and about a third of GDP. Under pressure The trade war between China and the United States has taken a toll on export-dependent Southeast Asian countries. Economic growth in the region is projected to slow this year to its lowest level in five years, making the signing of the deal more pressing for many ASEAN members. Speaking at the summit’s formal opening, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha called for a swift agreement “within this year to stimulate economic growth as well as trade and investment.” “The early conclusion of RCEP negotiations will lay the foundation for East Asia’s economic integration,” a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday. RCEP negotiations had stalled over India raising concerns about the impact a flood of cheap Chinese goods could have on local businesses. Read more: Angela Merkel visiting India to bolster ties amid China’s growing clout Some countries have also raised the possibility of moving ahead without India. Discussions on the deal will resume when member states meet on Monday afternoon.
ASEAN countries at a glance Symbolizing unity The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. Since its founding, the bloc has emerged as a beacon of unity in Southeast Asia, although it has often struggled to find consensus among members over key policy issues affecting the region’s politics, security and the economy, among other things.
ASEAN countries at a glance Brunei The Sultanate of Brunei, located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, is one of the richest nations in the world. The small, oil-rich country is governed by its sultan as an absolute Muslim monarchy. Islam is the official religion in Brunei, with Sunni Muslims making up about 70 percent of the population. The sultan also sees himself as the main custodian of religious beliefs in Brunei.
ASEAN countries at a glance Cambodia Cambodia joined the ASEAN grouping in 1999, and during the past ten years, the Cambodian economy has grown by at least 7 percent year after year. That makes it one of the fastest growing economies in the world. But the unequal distribution of wealth and income is a problem, with many of the nation’s around 16-million strong population stuck in abject poverty, especially in rural areas.
ASEAN countries at a glance Indonesia Indonesia plays a salient role in ASEAN due to its status as the bloc’s most populous member state as well as the world’s most populous Muslim nation, with over 250 mi