China-backed trade deal pushed back to 2019

The summit took place in Singapore, where leaders from the ASEAN discussed the deal. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2018
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China-backed trade deal pushed back to 2019

  • Trade diplomats said negotiations will run deep into 2019
  • The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), covering half the world’s population, is billed as an antidote to President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda

SINGAPORE: A China-backed bid to complete the world’s largest trade deal — without the United States — was pushed back to next year after Asia-Pacific trade ministers failed to agree key terms at a Singapore summit.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), covering half the world’s population, is billed as an antidote to President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda, which has seen tariffs imposed on almost half of all Chinese imports to the US — and retaliatory levies by Beijing.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who is attending a Singapore summit to rally support for the deal, said he hoped RCEP would be signed and implemented next year.
“It (RCEP) is going to deliver real benefits to the people of our region,” he said in an address Tuesday.
China was now the standard bearer of global free trade, he added, with the RCEP — a sweeping 16-country deal that includes China, Japan, India and the 10 members of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) — at the heart of its strategy.
“It’s going to send a message to the international community that we stand by free trade... with rising protectionism and strains on free trade we need to advance the RCEP negotiations,” Li said.
He conceded the Chinese economy was facing “challenges” in the wake of the trade war with the US, but insisted strong fundamentals meant radical intervention was not the remedy.
“Despite downward pressures we will not resort to massive stimulus,” Li said.

Trade diplomats said negotiations will run deep into 2019.
“We made significant progress,” New Zealand minister of state for trade and export growth Damien O’Connor told reporters after talks late Monday.
“But we are very happy with that and is heading in the right direction.”
India’s concerns over opening its markets to competition, in particular from Chinese firms, has been a key sticking point in the several years of negotiations.
But New Delhi’s delegation welcomed the incremental steps toward the establishing the trade agreement.
“The future lies in RCEP,” Indian trade minister Suresh Prabhu told reporters, but urged a patient approach to talks to ensure “every country will benefit from it.”
Several general elections scheduled early next year — including in India, Thailand and Indonesia — have complicated the timeframe of a deal that will open markets in countries covering nearly half the world’s GDP.
A draft leaders’ statement on the RCEP seen by AFP noted the urgency of reaching an agreement “given the current headwinds faced by the global economy.”
RCEP was given extra impetus after Trump pulled the US out of the rival Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The TPP is still alive even without Washington, but RCEP is now the world’s biggest trade deal.
However, the Beijing-backed pact is much less ambitious than the TPP in areas such as employment and environmental protection.
The ASEAN summit, which formally opens Tuesday afternoon, is expected to sweep in trade, maritime disputes and the Rohingya crisis.
Key world leaders including China’s Li, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mike Pence — Trump’s number two — are also in Singapore for talks foreshadowed by the China-US trade war and its ripple effect on global economies, particularly in Asia.
Pence is also expected to keep pressure on Beijing over its growing aggression in the South China Sea while seeking support over Washington’s approach to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is also in Singapore and is likely to face intense scrutiny over her country’s treatment of the Rohingya, particularly from Muslim-majority nations at the summit.
Amnesty International on Monday stripped Suu Kyi of its highest honor, citing her “indifference” to the atrocities committed by Myanmar’s army against the minority.


Lebanon’s Hariri calls for cabinet solidarity in budget debate

Updated 18 June 2019
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Lebanon’s Hariri calls for cabinet solidarity in budget debate

  • The PM said cabinet ministers need to be united and responsible
  • Lebanon’s debt is almost 150% of its GDP

BEIRUT, June 18 : Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri on Tuesday called for parliament to quickly approve the country’s 2019 budget and urged his coalition government to avoid internal disputes.
The cabinet this month agreed a budget plan that shrinks the projected fiscal deficit by 4 percentage points from last year to 7.6% by cutting spending and raising taxes and other fees.
“What I want during the debate is for us to be responsible and united, and not contradictory,” Hariri said in a statement, addressing cabinet ministers as to their comportment during the parliament debate.
Parliament’s finance committee is debating the draft budget and has suggested amendments, local newspapers reported. It will then put the budget to the full assembly to ratify it.
Parliament is mostly composed of parties that are also present in the coalition government and which supported the budget there.
Since the budget was agreed there have been fierce arguments between parties in the coalition over several subjects, though these have not targeted the budget.
Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest debt burdens, equivalent to about 150% of GDP, and the International Monetary Fund has urged it to cut spending.
“We have held 19 cabinet meetings to agree on this draft budget and these sessions were not for fun, but for deep, detailed debate over every clause and every idea,” Hariri said.
“For this reason, I consider it the responsibility of each of us in government to have ministerial solidarity...to defend in parliament the decision that we have taken together,” he added.
After the 2019 budget is agreed, the cabinet must quickly start working on the 2020 budget and on approving the first phase of a program of investments toward which foreign donors have offered $11 billion in project financing. (Reporting by Angus McDowall, editing by Ed Osmond)