Asean, China to dovetail plans for connectivity

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By Charmaine A. Tadalan and Jenina P. Ibañez

LEADERS of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China on Sunday vowed to dovetail development plans for regional connectivity, according to a joint statement posted on the group’s website.

The master plan on the region’s connectivity by 2025 and the Belt and Road Initiative would contribute to “regional connectivity, peace and stability, economic prosperity and sustainable development,” the parties said in the statement issued at the 22nd Asean-China Summit in Bangkok.

The joint statement outlined the five objectives of the connectivity master plan — sustainable infrastructure, digital innovation, seamless logistics, regulatory and people mobility, which are aligned with the Belt and Road Initiative.

The Belt initiative is China’s ambitious infrastructure program that seeks to link the country to Russia and Europe.

The master plan promotes policy coordination, connectivity of infrastructure, unimpeded trade, financial integration and closer people-to-people ties.

Under the joint statement, Asean leaders vowed to promote innovative infrastructure financing in Asean by mobilizing capital. Leaders also agreed to enforce such cooperation through bilateral and multilateral meetings.

Meanwhile, trade ministers from countries in the Asia-wide mega trade deal Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will report back to their leaders at the conclusion of trade talks on Friday.

In a statement at the weekend, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said trade ministers from RCEP countries met on Nov. 1 to conclude the remaining chapters of the trade deal among 10 Southeast Asian nations and six of their major trading partners: Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.

“This year’s negotiations were fast-tracked to follow the mandate given by the RCEP leaders in their last year’s meeting in Singapore,” according to the statement.

RCEP nations cover 45% of the world’s population, a third of the world’s economy and a third of global trade. Negotiations began in 2012.

The results of the talks are expected to be reported by the countries’ leaders on Nov. 4, during the 35th Asean Summit in Thailand.

The Bangkok Post reported on Saturday that India was reluctant to lower its trade barriers, because it is concerned that the free trade deal could lead to an influx of cheap agricultural and industrial products from China.

The Philippines is expected to have greater market access to other RCEP countries for export products including pineapples, coconut products, bananas, car parts, paper, soap, airbags, footwear and tires, the Trade department said.

“It includes practically most traded items, with the exclusion of few sensitive products mostly in agriculture,” it added.

The Philippines can also provide services such as in research and development, agriculture, construction, air marine, transport, legal, accounting, auditing, engineering, urban planning, medical, dental, distribution, environment and health.

After the conclusion of RCEP, legal scrubbing and remaining bilateral negotiations on products and services to be covered under market access will be held.

Negotiations must be concluded by February 2020, with signing scheduled to take place in the summit hosted by Vietnam next year.