by Mao Pengfei, Nguon Sovan
PHNOM PENH, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement will become a new booster for the development of economic and trade ties among the 16 participating countries, a Cambodian official and scholars said.
The RCEP pact is being negotiated among the 10 ASEAN member states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and their six free-trade agreement partners Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
The talks on RCEP were launched in 2012, and the leaders of the RCEP countries hope the negotiations will be concluded by the end of this year.
Ministry of Commerce Undersecretary of State and Spokesman Seang Thay said RCEP will give the participating countries greater market access.
"It will be a huge free trade bloc that will importantly contribute to further enhancing economic, trade and investment relations between ASEAN and their six free trade agreement partners," he told Xinhua.
The spokesman said RCEP will promote trade liberalization in the region, further entrenching the region's importance to economic growth and global trade.
"All sides will benefit from this pact when it becomes a reality," Thay said.
RCEP is expected to be one of the world's largest trading blocs, accounting for 45 percent of the world population, 40 percent of global trade and one third of the world's GDP (gross domestic product).
Chheang Vannarith, president of the Asian Vision Institute, said RCEP embeds both economic and strategic relevance between ASEAN and the six countries, and it will contribute to promoting a multilateral trading system.
"It will be a big push to counter protectionism and unilateralism," he said to Xinhua.
The scholar said China is the locomotive of regional economy, and the conclusion of the RCEP trade pact would further integrate supply chain network between China and ASEAN.
Commenting on China's role in promoting the RCEP negotiations, Vannarith said China has been the actor in facilitating the dialogue and negotiation on RCEP as China strongly believes in an open and inclusive regionalism.
Mey Kalyan, a senior advisor to the Supreme National Economic Council, said the upcoming conclusion of the RCEP will definitely have great importance at a time when the world economy is losing its balance due to uncertainty, protectionism and unilateralism.
"RCEP is expected to bring a sense of certainty and normalcy, although it will still have only a small impact at its early stage," he said.
Joseph Matthews, a senior professor at the BELTEI International University in Phnom Penh, said RCEP is an ASEAN-centered proposal for a regional free trade area and it will be one of the most important regional free trade arrangements in the world.
"In my view, RCEP will act as a driving force to accelerate the trade volume within the ASEAN bloc and beyond," he told Xinhua.