BRUNEI - As his country's chairmanship of ASEAN draws to a close, the Sultan of Brunei stressed there is no conflict between the two major free trade pacts centred on Asia that are being discussed.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are often painted as a battle between the United States and China for influence in South-east Asia, but Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said both pacts in fact have the same goals in mind.
"We see both agreements as complementing each other and our other efforts in ASEAN," said the Sultan, referring to the grouping's aim to be a closer economic community by end-2015.
"Through the TPP and RCEP, as well as what we are doing in realising the ASEAN economic community, we are all addressing the same goal of trade liberalisation and facilitation and economic integration," he said in response to media questions.
Brunei - like Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam - is involved in talks for both pacts. The TPP involves the US, Japan and 10 other Apec countries, while the RCEP involves all 10 ASEAN members, as well as China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India. The US is not part of the RCEP, and China has not joined talks for the ambitious TPP.
But the Sultan said he saw "very significant" potential for greater complementarity and trade links between ASEAN and other Asia-Pacific countries, and this would benefit ASEAN as a whole.
Separately, Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe said at a press conference in Brunei that the momentum has been built for concluding TPP talks by year end, days after leaders met in Bali and said the deadline was still on track in spite of tough sticking points.
The RCEP, on the other hand, was launched last year and is due to be concluded in 2015.
At the close of the ASEAN Summit yesterday, the Sultan passed the baton to Myanmar President Thein Sein, whose country will chair ASEAN next year for the first time since it joined in 1997. President Thein Sein said Myanmar is "resolute" on performing its chairman duties satisfactorily.
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