Achieving a ‘high quality RCEP’

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) encompasses 25 percent global GDP, 45 percent of the total population, 30 percent of global income and 30 percent global trade. Led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), it is one of the most useful strategic opportunities for the 16 countries – ASEAN-10, India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand – to realise an economically open and liberal Asia Pacific.The potential that RCEP has is immense. If it is completed, it stands to be the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Uruguay Round in 1994 which established the World Trade Organisation (WTO).However, completing the trade deal is a mammoth task.In a briefing paper published by Singapore based ISEAS – Yusuf Ishak Institute, authors Malcolm Cook and Sanchita Basu Das concluded that RCEP’s biggest challenge is “the differing negotiation positions between key non-ASEAN RCEP parties.”The paper rightly indicates that RCEP economies come from “different starting points” – the wealthiest RCEP economy (Australia) being 48 times richer than the poorest (Cambodia). Besides that, the largest RCEP members do not have Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with each other – India-China, Japan-China and Japan-Korea – and that their bilateral baggage often hampers RCEP negotiations. Moreover, protectionist economic attitudes is a huge stumbling block to the completion of negotiations. India, for example is being pressured to liberalise tariff lines from 80 percent to 90-92 percent. However, New Delhi has been wary of such measures – that it might cause cheaper Chinese goods to flood its markets and hurt its manufacturing industry. As of now, 20 rounds of negotiations have been completed and the 16 nations are slowly inching towards a deal agreeable to all. Speaking at a lecture on Singapore’s priorities as ASEAN Chairman in 2018 at the ISEAS – Yusuf Ishak Institute in early December, Singaporean Foreign Minister, Vivien Balakrishnan expressed his hope that a ‘high quality RCEP” would be completed by the end of next year. “Do I hope that all the homework that ASEAN had set for itself, not just from our Chairmanship, but from earlier Chairmanships, is also settled by December? I think we can make progress on all that,” he added.Balakrishnan was referring to the Trans-Pacific Agreement (TPP) which is being concurrently negotiated as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The TPP which was dealt a blow when the United States reversed its commitment to the pact upon President Donald Trump’s elections, has continued to trudge along – with Japan leading negotiations among the remainder 11 economies.In pursuit of the goals of the ‘pathways’ to a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), the RCEP seems like the better bet than the TPP.In the same briefing paper, the authors agreed that US withdrawal of the TPP has made RCEP” the most inclusive pathway” towards achieving FTAAP.“The US…

Indonesia court rejects bid to outlaw extramarital sex

A bid to make all sex outside marriage illegal was thrown out by an Indonesian court Thursday, as concerns grow over rising intolerance in the world's biggest Muslim-majority country. Five out of nine judges on the Constitutional Court in the capital Jakarta narrowly rejected the push to criminalise extramarital relations. The unsuccessful petition would have affected unmarried heterosexuals and gay people, who cannot marry in Indonesia – several months after the arrests of a group of men accused of holding a "gay party". The court heard a judicial review filed by Islamic activist group the Family Love Alliance that sought to alter the criminal code. "The appeal is rejected in its entirety," said the Constitutional Court's chief justice Arief Hidayat. Under current laws, sex is only illegal in Indonesia for both homosexual and heterosexual people if it involves a minor. However, gay sex is illegal in conservative Aceh province, which upholds sharia law. Under a local law that came into force in 2015, people can also be punished for having gay sex with up to 100 strokes of the cane. Aceh, on Sumatra island, began implementing Islamic law after being granted special autonomy in 2001, an attempt by the central government to quell a long-running separatist insurgency. There was a backlash against the country's LGBT community last year with government ministers publicly making anti-gay statements. In May, police arrested a group of men holding party in two hotel rooms in Surabaya, Indonesia's second-biggest city. Some of the men were watching gay porn and performing "deviant sexual acts", police said at the time. Authorities named eight men as suspects and filed preliminary charges against them under Indonesia's tough anti-pornography law, which can result in years in jail. Also this year, two men having sex were caught by a group of vigilantes who raided a boarding house in Aceh. Indonesia has often been praised for its moderate inclusive brand of Islam, and the constitution guarantees freedom of worship for six religions. However, the diverse archipelago's sizeable religious minorities – mainly Christians and Muslim minority Shiites and Ahmadis – have been increasingly targeted in recent years. – AFP   Recommended stories: Vietnam’s promising future for women in companies Indonesia court rejects bid to outlaw extramarital sex Chinese, S. Korean leaders meet hoping to smooth tensions

Vietnam’s promising future for women in companies

According to a recent report, Vietnam seems to have a bright future for gender diversity in the Southeast Asia region as there is a higher illustration of women serving as board of directors and chief executive officers in comparison to Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reported that some 25 percent of CEOs on board of directors in Vietnam are women. Currently, women hold 14 percent of CEO or board level positions in Malaysia and 10 percent in Singapore. Indonesia came in last among the four countries, at six percent.The majority of Southeast Asian companies with women on the board still make up a small number despite a miniscule year-to-year increase.The reasons which contribute to low levels of representation of women in the boardroom across ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) include deep-rooted corporate culture, long working hours and household responsibilities, particularly in raising children.Additionally, the BCG report also found that more women in Vietnam are “also hoping to be promoted” after surveying more than 2,000 employees.At the moment, Malaysia has the biggest proportion of female respondents that intend to not leave their current positions.This is because there are various beliefs around the discourse of promoting women in the boardroom. These being mostly misconceptions, include that company growth and transformation are more urgent priorities compared to promoting women.According to Bloomberg, Ian Grundy of Switzerland-based employment firm Adecco Group AG, the world’s largest provider of temporary workers said that "women in Vietnam lead or own many SMEs and large enterprises which provides positive, visible and diverse role models to other women.”An earlier study by Deloitte this year noted that 17.6 percent of board members in a survey of 50 Vietnamese companies were women. This statistic proves that it is double of Asia’s average of 7.8 percent as developed nations like Taiwan, South Korea and Japan ranked amongst the lowest in Asia.Board members in other Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore comprised of 13.7 and 10.7 percent of women, respectively.Percentage of women on boards in five ASEAN countries. Source: Deloitte Global’s Women in the Boardroom: A Global Perspective.“Emerging countries outperform developed countries in Asia in women’s representation on company boards,” said Adecco’s Grundy. “Vietnam’s progress in gender diversity is partly due to measures by government and businesses to retain and grow female talent,” he said."Having said that, it is important to remember that Southeast Asia still lags behind Europe and North America," said Grundy. "And globally we are still some way from achieving optimal gender diversity, which means there is continued effort required from all stakeholders in the region."On a larger scale, recent research from Citigroup Inc. also found that the GDP in advanced economies could grow by 6 percent if gender equality in…

Philippines' Duterte wins extra year of martial law powers

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte won martial law powers across the southern third of the country for one more year on Wednesday to combat Islamic militants and leftist rebels, as Congress brushed aside fears of a looming dictatorship. Duterte's request to extend martial law in the Mindanao region until December 31 next year and detain rebellion suspects there without charge was approved by 240 votes to 27 at a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives. Asked by reporters later on Wednesday if he would extend martial law to the whole country, Duterte said "all options are on the table". In May Duterte imposed military rule and suspended a constitutional guarantee against warrantless arrests across the region of 20 million people, hours after armed Islamic militants seized the southern city of Marawi. The initial period of martial law was limited by the constitution to 60 days. However, in July Congress authorised Duterte to extend martial law until the last day of 2017 as he moved to retake the city from hundreds of gunmen he accused of plotting to turn Marawi into a regional base for the Islamic State group. Duterte declared Marawi "liberated" in October after a five-month US-backed bombing campaign that claimed more than 1,100 lives and left large areas of the city in ruins. But on Monday he warned that those who escaped were regrouping. Duterte, who called off peace talks last month with communist rebels, also warned one of Asia's longest armed rebellions had stepped up "terrorist acts". His request added to critics' fears he was seeking to steer the Philippines back into dictatorship like the late president Ferdinand Marcos did in 1972. On Wednesday Duterte compared the communists who operate in rural areas all over the country to the Islamic militants who are based in Mindanao. "They are the same," he said. Opposition legislators said Wednesday that martial law was illegal because Duterte had declared the liberation of Marawi and described the communists as a "spent force". "Is this now a prelude to declaring martial law nationwide?" said senate minority leader Franklin Drilon. Duterte has repeatedly said he may impose martial law across the entire nation to save the Philippines from narcotics, crime and terrorism-induced anarchy. But his cabinet members downplayed those fears. "We do not ask for unlimited martial law. What we are seeking is unlimited peace," Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told the joint session. – AFP   Recommended stories: Chinese, S. Korean leaders meet hoping to smooth tensions Empowering civil society in ASEAN Asia's top inflation-targeting bank may be preparing to hike


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The ASEAN Women of Tomorrow Conference 2017

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Event Location
Sunway Resort Hotel & Spa (23 Nov) & Tanarimba, Janda Baik (24 Nov)