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.


Libya’s National Oil against paying ‘ransom’ to reopen El Sharara field

Updated 14 December 2018
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Libya’s National Oil against paying ‘ransom’ to reopen El Sharara field

  • Ransom payment would set dangerous precedent
  • NOC declared force majeure on exports on Monday

BENGHAZI: Libya’s state-owned National Oil Corp. (NOC) said it was against paying a ransom to an armed group that has halted crude production at the country’s largest oilfield.
“Any attempt to pay a ransom to the armed militia which shut down El Sharara (oilfield) would set a dangerous precedent that would threaten the recovery of the Libyan economy,” NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said in a statement on the company’s website.
NOC on Monday declared force majeure on exports from the 315,000-barrels-per-day oilfield after it was seized at the weekend by a local militia group.
The nearby El-Feel oilfield, which uses the same power supply as El Sharara, was still producing normally, a spokesman for NOC said, without giving an output figure. The field usually pumps around 70,000 bpd.
Since 2013 Libya has faced a wave of blockages of oilfields and export terminals by armed groups and civilians trying to press the country’s weak state into concessions.
Officials have tended to end such action by paying off protesters who demand to be added to the public payroll.
At El Sharara, in southern Libya, a mix of state-paid guards, civilians and tribesmen have occupied the field, camping there since Saturday, protesters and oil workers said. The protesters work in shifts, with some going home at night.
NOC has evacuated some staff by plane, engineers at the oilfield said. A number of sub-stations away from the main field have been vacated and equipment removed.
The occupiers are divided, with members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) indicating they would end the blockade in return for a quick cash payment, oil workers say. The PFG has demanded more men be added to the public payroll.
The tribesmen have asked for long-term development funds, which might take time.
Libya is run by two competing, weak governments. Armed groups, tribesmen and normal Libyans tend to vent their anger about high inflation and a lack of infrastructure on the NOC, which they see as a cash cow booking billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues annually.