5 March 2018 – Secretary Ramon M. Lopez of the Department of Trade and Industry was in Singapore to attend the 24th ASEAN Economic Ministers Retreat (AEMR), the 16th ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM)- European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner Consultations and the 4th Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Intersessional Ministerial Meeting on 28 February – 3 March 2018 at Shangri-La Hotel Singapore.
The AEMR provided opportunities for ASEAN Economic Ministers to discuss economic issues confronting the region while deliberating on how to better integrate ASEAN’s economies through the AEC Blueprint 2025. The meeting was held on 1 March 2018 and chaired by H.E. Lim Hng Kiang, Minister of Trade and Industry of Singapore (MTI).
Under the chairmanship of Singapore this year, ASEAN will focus on strengthening the region to become resilient and innovative. Singapore’s economic objectives are to deepen regional connectivity to position ASEAN as the region for increasingly seamless economic activity and growing opportunities. Innovation and digital economy are key areas that Singapore intends to pursue. Singapore aims to promote innovation, build up digital connectivity and facilitate e-Commerce flows. ASEAN’s trade architecture needs to be enhanced and updated to ensure that trade and investment flows continue unhindered through the region. In addition to innovation and digital economy, Singapore is pursuing several initiatives with ASEAN Member States : a.)Improve trade facilitation; b.)Deepen services and investment integration; c.)Cultivate a conducive regulatory environment; and d.)Progress ASEAN’s external relations.
Meanwhile, the AEM and EU Trade Commissioner met on 2 March 2018 in Singapore for the 16th AEM-EU Trade Commissioner Consultations. The consultations were co-chaired by Minister Lim Hng Kiang of MTI and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström.
The AEM and EU Trade Commissioner reiterated the importance of strengthening all areas of dialogue and cooperation including on trade and investment, and in advancing efforts towards a Strategic Partnership. Both were pleased to note the strong trade and investment relations between the two regions. The EU was ASEAN’s second largest trading partner and retained its position as the largest external source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows into ASEAN in 2016 with €26.3 billion.
The AEM and EU reaffirmed their commitment to uphold free and open trade, support for a rules-based, transparent, and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system. ASEAN and EU are now working on a framework for the agreement and will be consulting experts and holding dialogues.
Finally, the RCEP Intersessional Ministerial Meeting held on 3 March 2018 noted the progress made since the Preparatory RCEP Ministerial Meeting for the 1st RCEP Summit on 12 November 2017 in Manila , including the outcomes of the 21st round of negotiations held on 2-9 February 2018 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The Ministers reaffirmed their resolve to meet the Leaders’ instruction to intensify efforts in 2018 towards its conclusion and welcomed progress made in the discussion on the tariff modality and its parameters. On services, the Ministers instructed negotiators to continue resolving outstanding issues and improving offers across all modes of supply, while working together to address specific sensitivities faced by the 16 RCEP Participating Countries (RPCs).
The Ministers reiterated the commitment to expedite negotiations on rules, geared towards facilitating trade and investment in support of the expansion and deepening of regional value chains. They underscored the immense potentials of an RCEP agreement to not only enhance economic growth, provide more jobs and improve the livelihood of people in the RCEP region, but also contribute significantly to the growth of global trade.