ASEAN sets up interim RCEP bureau

[FILE] Cars and tuk-tuk ride past a row of ASEAN member countries’ flags in the Laos capital of Vientiane on July 23, 2016. (Photo by HOANG DINH NAM / AFP)

ASEAN has decided to establish an interim bureau to oversee the implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

According to a press statement, issued by Indonesia, the decision came during the ASEAN Coordinating Council meeting and ASEAN foreign ministers’ retreat in Jakarta on Friday and Saturday. The council meeting touched on the whole gamut of ASEAN-related issues.

The interim secretariat will be established as a special unit in the ASEAN headquarters in Jakarta. It is hoped that it will gradually transition into a standalone RCEP Secretariat, with the aims of strengthening regional supply chains and contributing to the ASEAN economic integration agenda.

For the time being, the grouping has been unable to reach a consensus because there are quite a few members that want to host the RCEP permanent office, according to an informed diplomatic source. Cambodia has clearly expressed its desire to do so.

The RCEP is currently the world’s largest free trade agreement, which came into force in January last year. It has 15 members, comprising the ASEAN-10, Japan, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. India opted out at the last minute in 2019.

Trade among ASEAN members and with the RCEP dialogue partners has increased many fold since the agreement came into force, due to the lower tariffs and improved market access.


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