KUALA LUMPUR: Despite some details that need to be ironed out, the government is optimistic on the conclusion of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by year end.

International Trade and Industry Deputy Minister Dr Ong Kian Ming said currently participating countries are all focused on the political development in India, where the country is holding its General Election (GE) from April 11 to May 19, 2019.

“We are cautiously optimistic. We make slow progress in terms of each session but at the end of it, I am quite sure we will get towards stage where we can have a substantive conclusion.

“We are waiting to see the outcome of the Indian GE and to see what kind of position that the new administration will take in RCEP.

“Regardless, I believe that whoever takes power after Indian GE would also have to consider very seriously for push towards greater trade liberalisation.

“That is why we are cautiously optimistic that we can come to a substantive conclusion,” he told reporters after the CIMB Asean Research Institute’s Asean Integration Outlook 2019 exclusive briefing here, today.

KUALA LUMPUR 11 MARCH 2019. Dialogue with Deputy Minister MITI, Dr Ong Kian Ming at ASEAN Integration Outlook 2019. Pix by Rosela Ismail

He said some details that are still being ironed out include the level of trade liberalisation and the finalisation of the percentage of goods that would not be charged by any tariffs.

“The numbers are still being deliberated by different countries. Some want more while some are less open to greater trade liberalisation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ong believed that despite considerable progress that has been made by Asean Member States in promoting integration, many integration gaps remain.

“The AEC (Asean Economic Community) is still very much a work-in-progress. Asean Member States are working on closing the existing gaps in standards and regulatory harmonisation but it takes strong political will to accelerate the effort in order to overcome these hurdles.

“The incentive is to lower down these barriers is clear – with increasing integration, Asean is set for growth as an economically competitive and attractive base for foreign direct investment (FDI),” he said.

He said there is a greater need for economic collaboration among member countries today in view of continuing external uncertainties.

“Asean is highly trade-dependent and the ongoing trade war between China and US that has certainly put pressure on Asean trade. Notwithstanding that, the ongoing trade war has also presented the region with potential economic gain due to the relocation of the supply chain from China.

“However, Asean may not fully reap the economic gain due to the lack of concerted effort to harness each member countries’ competitive advantages to form a mega manufacturing hub,” he said.

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