‘Substantial progress’ made on major China trade deal that excludes US

Leaders and representatives pose for a group photo during the second Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership meeting on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Singapore on Wednesday, November 14. (AFP)
Updated 14 November 2018
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‘Substantial progress’ made on major China trade deal that excludes US

SINGAPORE: Substantial progress has been made on hammering out a China-backed trade deal, Singapore’s leader said Wednesday, driving ahead the world’s largest commercial pact which the United States is excluded from.
World leaders gathered in the tropical city state this week for a summit where a massive Beijing-backed agreement covering half the world’s population has dominated discussions.
Diplomats have been trying to nail down details as Beijing entices its neighbors to join a commercial alliance seen as an antidote to President Donald Trump’s “America First” protectionist trade policy.
The US has imposed tariffs on roughly half of what it imports from China, prompting Beijing to retaliate with its own levies.
Beijing’s leaders have recast themselves as the defenders of global commerce — with the United States under Trump relegated to the sidelines.
China, Japan and India are among 16 Asia-Pacific countries negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
“Substantial progress has been made this year to advance the RCEP negotiations,” Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Wednesday evening, adding talks were now “at the final stage.”
“With the strong momentum generated this year, I am pleased to note that the RCEP negotiations are poised for conclusion in 2019,” he added.
But he cautioned any further delays could risk “losing credibility” for a deal — which has already taken six years to negotiate.
This week’s meetings are the biggest in a series of annual gatherings organized by regional bloc the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), and are attended by 20 leaders.
RCEP was given extra impetus after US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the rival Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in early 2017.
That deal was spearheaded by his predecessor Barack Obama and aimed to bind fast-growing Asian powers into an American-backed order to counter China.
The TPP is still alive even without Washington — and will come into effect in December — but RCEP, if realized, will be 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.
Beijing had hoped to have the meat of the deal done by the end of this year, but the timetable has now slipped to 2019.
However, this has not stopped Chinese leaders from basking in the progress already made.
During a meeting with Southeast Asia leaders, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said he was hopeful talks would “break through the ceiling” and take regional trade “to new heights.”
Trump is not at the Singapore summit, nor will he attend a subsequent gathering of world leaders in Papua New Guinea at the end of the week, having sent Vice President Mike Pence instead.
National Security Adviser John Bolton, however, told reporters in Singapore that the president’s no-show should not be seen as a lack of commitment toward the region.
He blamed a “schedule crunch” after a particularly frenetic few weeks that included the midterm elections, attending the World War I armistice commemorations in France and preparing for the G20 in Argentina later this month.
There are still major sticking points in RCEP talks — with regional rival India particularly nervous about giving Chinese companies greater access to its markets, and wealthier nations wanting to see more progress on labor reforms.
Disagreements on intellectual property rights, goods tariffs and financial services are also on a long list of issues that still need to be concluded.
Also, the spectre of possible leadership changes with several general elections scheduled early next year — India, Thailand and Indonesia — have also complicated the timeline for a deal.
Aaron Connelly, an expert on Southeast Asian politics at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the fact that RCEP negotiations were not concluded at this year’s ASEAN could indicate China has some way to go to convince neighbors to sign up.
“It’s interesting that when Beijing is at its most vulnerable on trade, with US tariffs biting, they weren’t willing to concede enough to their neighbors in terms of market access to get a deal done,” he told AFP.
At the same time, trade ministers across Asia Pacific have sounded a largely positive tone this week, saying they expect the pact to be agreed sooner rather than later.
“The future lies in RCEP,” Indian trade minister Suresh Prabhu told reporters earlier in the week.


Nissan meets to replace Ghosn, as tensions with Renault grow

Updated 17 December 2018
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Nissan meets to replace Ghosn, as tensions with Renault grow

  • The decision on replacing Ghosn at Nissan is being led by an advisory committee that includes a former Renault executive
  • The Japanese company removed Ghosn from his post last month after he was detained on allegations of under-reporting his salary

TOKYO: The board of automaker Nissan meets Monday to discuss replacing former chairman Carlos Ghosn after his arrest for financial misconduct, as tensions grow in the firm’s alliance with Renault.
The Japanese company removed Ghosn from his post last month after he was detained on allegations of under-reporting his salary.
But it appears unlikely to agree Monday on a permanent replacement for him, in part because of open discord in its alliance with French automaker Renault.
Nissan itself faces charges for allegedly submitting financial documents that understated Ghosn’s pay, and Renault is now reportedly seeking more sway on the Japanese firm’s board.
The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that Renault urged Nissan in a letter to hold a shareholders meeting to discuss Renault’s representation on the firm’s nine-member board and within its top management.
It warned that Nissan’s indictment “creates significant risks to Renault, as Nissan’s largest shareholder, and to the stability of our industrial alliance,” the Journal reported.
A source with knowledge of the issue confirmed that Nissan had received the letter and was planning an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting in January.
Renault’s letter is the latest sign of the tensions in the alliance that groups the firm with Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors — a partnership that Ghosn forged and was often credited with holding together.
While Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors quickly removed Ghosn from leadership positions after his arrest, Renault has kept the auto executive on as CEO and chairman.
And while Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa launched a broadside against his former mentor shortly after his arrest, describing his “dark side,” Renault has approached the allegations more cautiously.
The decision on replacing Ghosn at Nissan is being led by an advisory committee that includes a former Renault executive, and Japanese media reports suggested it was unlikely to reach a decision on Monday.
“It slows things down, but it isn’t the end of the world,” a source close to the issue told AFP.
“We need to let them talk and decide properly. That’s more important than rushing.”
The company is instead likely to announce new governance measures intended to address criticism that it failed to prevent Ghosn’s alleged misconduct.
As his former employer wrangles over his replacement, Ghosn remains in the one-man cell at a Tokyo detention center he has occupied since his shock arrest on November 19.
Prosecutors have already charged him with under-reporting his pay by around $44 million over the five years to 2015, and are also investigating claims he under-reported it further in the last three years.
He will be detained until at least December 20, when prosecutors will either file new charges or request another 10-day detention period while they continue investigations.
A range of additional claims of financial misconduct have been made against Ghosn, including using Nissan funds to purchase homes around the world, though prosecutors have yet to level those accusations formally.
He and his former right-hand man Greg Kelly, who is also under arrest, reportedly deny any wrongdoing.
The charges have sparked a legal battle over Ghosn’s flat in Rio de Janeiro, with Nissan trying to prevent his family members from accessing the property and removing items.
A Brazilian court authorized relatives to access the apartment, despite claims from Nissan that they were removing corporate documents.
Ghosn’s arrest marked a stunning reversal of fortune for the Franco-Brazilian-Lebanese tycoon, once revered in Japan for effectively rescuing Nissan from insolvency.
He helped engineer the alliance between Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi, creating a partnership that sold more cars than any other globally last year.