China and India eye global export access
China's central bank estimates the world's second-largest economy could forfeit a 2.2 per cent boost to gross domestic product if Beijing does not join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Seoul - Members under pressure to fast-track RCEP
Left outside the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, trade pact struck last week, China and India approach this week's talks for a huge Asia-wide equivalent with fresh urgency, lest competitor nations steal a march on export access.
Beijing is a key driver of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, a proposed 16-nation free-trade area that would be the world's biggest such bloc, encompassing 3.4 billion people.
"Member countries will be under pressure to fast-track negotiations for RCEP," said a senior official in India, which is keen to avoid being excluded from major trade accords.
While China's rivalries with India and Japan will complicate progress, it has incentive to get things moving.
China's central bank estimates the world's second-largest economy could forfeit a 2.2 per cent boost to gross domestic product if Beijing does not join the TPP, according to a commentary by the bank's chief economist, Ma Jun, published in the official Shanghai Securities News on Friday. China stands to lose ground to manufacturing competitors such as Vietnam, which as a TPP member will have greater duty-free access to the United States and other member nations, said Tu Xinquan, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.
"It's not that there is a competition between the RCEP and the TPP, but overall, because of the pressure put on by the TPP, there's hope for a faster end to negotiations for more liberalised trade in the region," Tu said.
RCEP was first conceived by the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but China is increasingly prominent as backer of the proposed pact.
While RCEP has largely been seen as an alternative to US-led trade plans, some say that view is evolving. China may ultimately look to steer RCEP talks towards a broader pact that would encompass TPP into a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), said Kim Young-gui, head of regional trade studies at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy in Seoul - an idea first put forward by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperations (APEC) grouping.
Seven countries - Australia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei - are in both TPP and RCEP. "New Zealand views TPP and RCEP as complementary stepping stones to the vision of a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific," said a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson.
The TPP deal, reached on October 5 after marathon talks between the United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations, aims to liberalise commerce in 40 per cent of the world's economy and would be a legacy-defining victory for President Barack Obama.
Obama wants TPP to help boost US influence in East Asia and counter the rise of China, but Beijing officially welcomed the pact, saying it hoped the deal would promote Asia-Pacific trade.
"We hope that regardless of whether it is the TPP or the RCEP, they both can supplement, promote and be beneficial to strengthening the multilateral trade system," said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.