The Latest: Southeast Asian-centered trade pact delayed
SINGAPORE (AP) — The Latest on the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, meeting this week in Singapore (all times local):
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says a final agreement on a Southeast Asian-centered free trade agreement will be pushed back until 2019.
Lee’s comments Wednesday confirmed earlier expectations that the 16 countries in the plan, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, would not meet their goal of finalizing the accord within this year.
The plan includes China, India and other major regional economies but not the United States.
Lee says officials have made significant progress but are unable to bridge all their differences.
He told a meeting of leaders of the countries involved in the RCEP that the accord will send a strong signal about free trade while further delays would mean missed opportunities.
The RCEP would involve 40 percent of world trade.
Southeast Asian leaders and China are touting progress in keeping peace in the contentious South China Sea as they work toward a “code of conduct” to govern navigation routes and other activities in the region.
Speaking at the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang cited the region’s management of territorial disputes as an example and said the trend was toward greater stability.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he wanted at “all cost” to set the rules governing behavior in those seas to avoid trouble.
Duterte told reporters that relations between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors were “excellent” and that friction was between Western nations and China. He said a code of conduct was needed to avoid dangerous miscalculations.