Thai agencies close in on RCEP approval

A file photo shows economic leaders on screen during the 4th RCEP Summit, part of the 37th Asean Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam in November of last year.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade pact, the world’s biggest free trade deal, is making good progress with Singapore and China already submitting their ratifications.

According to Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department, other members are accelerating their internal processes, while three Thai state agencies are revving up issuance of related regulations for submission to the Asean Secretariat by October.

The agreement was signed by 15 nations in Asia-Pacific including Thailand last November. It requires ratification from at least nine countries (at least six from Asean and three non-Asean countries) to take effect.

The Thai parliament ratified the pact on Feb 9 this year.

The Customs Department is working to issue regulations on customs tariffs to be collected from RCEP members, while the Foreign Trade Department is upgrading the system to issue certificates of origin.

The Office of Industrial Economics plans to issue an announcement about the conditions of auto parts imports under the pact.

Once the three state agencies have completed their assignments, Thailand can submit the ratification to the Asean Secretariat immediately, possibly by October this year, said Ms Auramon.

She said the obvious benefits from the pact for Thailand are exports, mostly related to a pledge from South Korea, Japan and China to reduce or abolish customs tariff collection on additional Thai shipments on top of those already offered under free trade agreements.

For instance, South Korea vows to reduce customs duty on fresh, dried and frozen fruit from Thailand such as mangosteen and durian from 8-45% currently to 0% within 10-15 years, pineapple juice from 50% to 0% in 10 years, and fishery products from 10-35% to 0% within 15 years.

The Commerce Ministry previously estimated Thailand has a total of 40,000 goods that will benefit from the duty reduction, with 29,000 to enjoy zero tariffs in the first phase.

The remainder of the exports are scheduled to see their tariffs gradually reduced to zero in 10-20 years, based on the conditions of each RCEP member.

Under RCEP, Thai investors are allowed to hold a 70-80% share in certain businesses such as construction overseas, creating new business opportunities for Thai businesses.

In 2020, Thailand’s trade value with RCEP members totalled 7.87 trillion baht, or 57.5% of the country’s total trade.