ASEAN and six Asian leaders will this November announce the official establishment of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will make it the biggest free-trade market on the globe.
"The leaders should come up with a formal statement to form the RCEP. The negotiations are expected to start early next year in order to wrap up the pact by 2015, just in time for the full implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community," Somkiat Triratpan, deputy director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department, said last week.
The leaders from 16 countries will mainly discuss the RCEP or ASEAN+6 free-trade agreement amid concerns over slowing global economic growth, he said.
The announcement is scheduled to be made during the ASEAN Leaders Summit in Cambodia from November 15-20. The RCEP will gather up the free-trade agreements between ASEAN and the six partner nations and then draw up further agreements to open up more trade, services and investment among the member states.
The RCEP countries will commit to liberalising almost 100 per cent of trade among them following many effective bilateral free-trade pacts between ASEAN and its partners. However, there is still a degree of protectionism for sensitive goods of some countries such as rice.
The region may also move slowly on freeing service and investment under the RCEP due to development disparity among the economies, so RCEP countries have to continue integrating to eliminate the barriers to opening up service and investment more deeply.
ASEAN countries and the private sector envision the RCEP as paving the way for stimulating the Asian economy and helping to balance expansion between Eastern and Western countries. The pact worth US$17 trillion (S$20.7 trillion, Bt522.49 trillion) in trade will also offset the power of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which is gathering nine trade members in Asia-Pacific.
The RCEP will also act as an important stepping stone to achieving the Free-Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific before 2020.
ASEAN groups 10 countries in Southeast Asia. The six partner countries are China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
The other ASEAN countries and six partners together account for 56 per cent or $255 billion of Thailand's total trade. If this regional free-trade pact is successfully concluded, Thailand will be able to increase trade with those countries significantly, he added.
According to the Thailand Development Research Institute and the department's study, the RCEP will help boost the Thai economy by 4.03 per cent. Local products that stand to benefit the most are processed fruits and vegetables, electrical appliances and electronic goods, automobile parts, rubber and plastic.