‘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.


Dubai real estate market recovery to be seen as of 2022: S&P

Updated 5 min 9 sec ago
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Dubai real estate market recovery to be seen as of 2022: S&P

  • The outlook on property was part of a challenging assessment of the credit-worthiness of the emirate
  • S&P was generally comfortable with the credit ratings of the emirate’s banking system

DUBAI: S&P Global, the ratings agency, painted a grim picture for the real estate sector in Dubai, with a meaningful recovery in property prices expected only after 2022.
At a presentation to journalists in the Dubai International Financial Center, S&P analyst Sapna Jagtiani said that under the firm’s “base case scenario,” the Dubai real estate market would fall by between 5 and 10 percent this year, roughly the same as the fall in 2018, which would bring property prices to the levels seen at the bottom of the last cycle in 2010, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
“On the real estate side we continue to have a very grim view of the market. While we expect prices to broadly stabilize in 2020, we don’t see a meaningful recovery in 2021. Relative to the previous recovery cycle, we believe it will take longer time for prices to display a meaningful recovery,” she said.
S&P’s verdict adds to several recent pessimistic assessments of the Dubai real estate market. Jagtiani said that conditions in the other big UAE property market, in Abu Dhabi, were not as negative, because “Abu Dhabi never did ramp up as much in 2014 and 2015 as Dubai.” S&P does not rate developers in the capital.
She added that a “stress scenario” could arise if government and royal family related developers — such as Emaar Properties, Meraas, Dubai Properties and Nakheel — which have attractive land banks and economies of scale, continue to launch new developments.
“In such a scenario, we think residential real estate prices could decline by 10-15 percent in 2019 and a further 5-10 percent in 2020. In this case, we expect no upside for Dubai residential real estate prices in 2021, as we expect it will take a while for the market to absorb oversupply,” she said.
S&P recently downgraded Damac, one of the biggest Dubai-based developers, to BB- rating, on weak market prospects.
However, Jagtiani said that, despite the “significant oversupply” from existing projects, several factors should held stabilize the market: Few, if any, major product launches; improved affordability and “bargain hunting” by bulk buyers; and a resurgence of Asian, especially Chinese, investor interest in the market.
Jagtiani also said that government measures such as new ownership and visa regulations and reduction in government fees could help prevent prices falling more sharply, as well as “increased economic activity related to Dubai Expo 2020, which is expected to attract about 25 million visitors to the emirate.”
The outlook on property was part of a challenging assessment of the credit-worthiness of the emirate. “In our view, credit conditions deteriorated in Dubai in 2018, reducing the government’s ability to provide extraordinary financial support to its government related entities (GREs) if needed,” S&P said in a report. “The negative outlook on Dubai Electricity and Water
Authority (DEWA) partly reflects our concern that a real estate downturn beyond our base case could out increased pressure on government finances,” the report said.
It pointed out that about 70 percent of government revenues come from non-tax sources, including land transfer and mortgage registration fees, as well as charges for housing and municipality liabilities, as well as dividends from real estate developers it controls, like Emaar and Nakheel.
S&P was generally comfortable with the credit ratings of the emirate’s banking system, which has an estimated 20 percent exposure to real estate. “Banks in the UAE tend to generally display a good level of profitability and capitalization, giving them a good margin to absorb a moderate increase in risks,” the report said.