Duterte defends need to 'power nap' after summit no-shows

India,China,trade deal

THE much-awaited finalisation of the Asean-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will not materialise by the end of 2018 as initially hoped, confirmed Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his opening remarks at the 2nd RCEP Summit on Wednesday.

Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, in a statement on Tuesday, said negotiations had "progressed substantially" and "reached the final stage".

The statement comes after US-China bilateral talks where Chinese officials asked Washington to stop sending vessels and military aircraft close to Chinese islands and reefs and "stop actions that undermine China's sovereignty and security interests".

Chinese leaders are busy burnishing their own free trade credentials as they speak out against Trump's efforts to get Beijing to change policies aimed at making Chinese industries leaders in advanced technologies.

World leaders will push for the rapid completion of a massive, China-backed trade deal that excludes the USA at a summit this week, in a rebuke to rising protectionism and Donald Trump's "America First" agenda.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has skipped several meetings at an worldwide summit in favour of "power naps", prompting his office to issue a statement denying speculation that the 73-year-old is suffering to ill health.

RCEP is often seen as a rival to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a vast regional pact once led by the U.S. that Trump withdrew from early in his presidency.

The remaining 11 countries are preparing to inaugurate the revised trade deal, the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, following Australia's ratification earlier this month.

The RCEP is of great importance to preserving free trade and economic globalization, in which the World Trade Organization plays a central role, Li said.

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"We made significant progress", New Zealand minister of state for trade and export growth Damien O'Connor told reporters after talks late Monday, but added delegates were "hopefully ready for conclusion next year".

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is in Singapore to give impetus to the deal on the sidelines of a gathering of Southeast Asian and world leaders.

Indian Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu said the future "lies in RCEP", but urged a caution and patience to ensure "every country will benefit from it".

A fast-urbanising and aging region of 630 million people, ASEAN is destined to become the world's fourth biggest economy by 2030, after the US, China and the European Union.

The two sides also pledged to advance the building of a new land-sea transport corridor, which consists of a number of railway and sea trade routes, connecting central and southwest China to Southeast Asia.

The signing took place amid the 33rd ASEAN Summit and other related summits that will take place in Singapore until Thursday.

In his maiden speech on the Asean platform after 15 years, the prime minister said what the regional grouping requires is a fair and mutually beneficial trade and investment cooperation that benefits countries of widely varying levels.

The Asean summit, which formally opens on Tuesday afternoon, is expected to sweep in trade, maritime disputes and the Rohingya crisis.

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