The 17th Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) meeting and related meetings were held from 21 February to 3 March 2017 in Kobe, Japan.
It was clear in Kobe that participating countries recognised the need for the negotiations to intensify, particularly in light of recent global developments, and the potential for an RCEP Agreement to boost business confidence, benefit consumers and reinforce the region's contribution to global growth.
Prior to the 17th Round, RCEP Chief Negotiators (known as TNC leads) met Japan's Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, Mr Hiroshige Seko, and State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Kentaro Sonoura, in Tokyo to discuss progress and the way forward in the RCEP negotiations.
RCEP participating countries made progress in Kobe across the RCEP's three core market access areas (Goods, Services, Investment), and on rules issues including intellectual property, electronic commerce and legal and institutional issues. Expert consultations on Government Procurement were also held. The Working Group on Economic and Technical Cooperation completed its work in previous negotiating rounds. In light of developments at the Kobe round, the 16 RCEP participating countries are now seeking to table revised goods and services offers by the start of the next round in early May 2017.
Stakeholder events involving RCEP negotiators took place in Kobe. These included engagement with representatives of civil society organisations at the Kobe Chamber of Commerce and Industries, and with researchers from the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and the East Asian Bureau of Economic Research (EABER). A session on electronic commerce was facilitated by the Asian Trade Centre with participation from private sector representatives, including the Chair of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC) Working Group on Electronic Commerce.
Australia remains committed to achieving a modern, comprehensive and commercially meaningful RCEP outcome in a timely manner. We are also working on developing contemporary rules for a more predictable trading environment – for example in newer areas such as electronic commerce. However, the negotiations are challenging – given the involvement of countries ranging from advanced industrial economies to least developed countries – and significant work remains to negotiate the market access outcomes and finalise text.
As these are complex negotiations, a successful conclusion will require concerted effort from all participating countries. There are encouraging signs about the commitment of governments to the successful conclusion of RCEP, and strong engagement and support from the business and research communities.
The 18th round of RCEP negotiations is scheduled from 2 to 12 May 2017 in the Philippines.