SINGAPORE (Nov 15): Singapore’s hope of sealing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement to crown its year as Asean chair has fizzled out as leaders at the 33rd Asean Summit and related summits held in the city state from Nov 11 to 15 abandoned expectations of completing the 16-nation trade bloc this year.

Comprising the 10-member Asean together with Asia-Pacific powerhouses China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, RCEP would have been the world’s largest trading bloc. The trade deal would cover almost half of the world’s population and encompass a third of global GDP.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing had led the charge for a “substantial conclusion” to RCEP negotiations by year-end. Now, officials say they are looking to finalise the deal by 2019 — at the earliest.

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