"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] Speech by H.E. Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, at the Fifth Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Intersessional Ministerial Meeting

[Place] Tokyo, Japan
[Date] July 1, 2018
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional translation
[Full text]

Distinguished RCEP ministers, I would like to welcome you to Japan from my heart.

"Asia is one."

This is a quote from the opening paragraph of "The Ideals of the East" written by Tenshin (Kakuzo) Okakura, who is one of the foremost thinkers of Meiji era, in 1903. However, Asia was still too broad to call as "one" at that time. Back then, it took a month for a ship loaded with cotton in Bombay, India, to travel from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean through Singapore, and reach Kobe, Japan, via HongKong.

A century has passed since then. Nowadays, you can travel from Tokyo to India within only 9 hours by plane. Moreover, the internet enables you to access information and communicate with people in India in a moment. No matter where you are in broad Asia, you can hold face-to-face business meetings or settle accounts in a flash using electronic money.

That is why now I tell you, "Asia is one."

I am sure that Asia can become one. Rather, Asia must become one by looking ahead to the future. All of this story depends on our will and our actions.

The 16 RCEP countries account for half of the world's population and 30 percent of global GDP in total. The RCEP countries have enormous potential. If we succeed in bringing this potential into vibrant bloom, we will be able to enjoy further prosperity together.

The key to this is free trade. We must dramatically expand the transaction of people, goods, and capital within this region by establishing free and fair rules. The question is whether we, the Asian region, can unite as one and keep on raising the flag of free trade while a concern on protectionism has been increasing worldwide. The RCEP negotiations are drawing attention from the rest world more than ever.

Let us act in solidarity to create a free, fair, and rule-based market in this region.

I would like all of you to envision the bright future of Asia that the RCEP will bring about. You can imagine an exceptionally ambitious vision of the future which is not limited to active transactions of goods due to tariff elimination.

We will create rules of free transactions of e-commerce. This will provide a small company in the middle of Yangon which sells coconut oil to tourists with a great opportunity to access a market of 3.5 billion consumers through the Internet.

We will also improve rules to protect intellectual property thoroughly, which enables everyone to use state-of-the-art blood test kits developed in Australia. A swift, simple, and accurate diagnoses become possible, which will contribute substantially to improving the quality of medical care of 3.5 billion people. By bringing the wisdom of 3.5 billion people together, we can bring about the next revolutionary innovation. Moreover, plentiful investments and promising talents will certainly come to the Asian region from all over the world. As a result, the RCEP will ensure that this region remains a center of global growth until the era of our children's and our grandchildren's generations.

The RCEP will become a major cornerstone for realizing this region's sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

Japan has led negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership 11 (TPP-11), and just recently this TPP-11 Agreement attained Diet approval for ratification. The negotiations on the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) have also been concluded. As a flag bearer for free trade, we have done our utmost to expand a free, fair, and rule-based economy in the world.

The next achievement will be RCEP. We would like to establish a free, fair, and rule-based twenty-first century economic order in this region by working together with all of you who attend today's meeting. With this strong determination, Japan has come to host a ministerial meeting for a multinational mega Free Trade Agreement (FTA) for the first time in our history.

I also understand that this is the first time fora country outside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to host an RCEP ministerial meeting. However, please do not worry because Minister Hiroshige Seko serving as Co- chair has frequently visited Asian countries and has developed close relationship with them. Minister Seko is well aware of the ASEAN members' views, so distinguished Ministers, please feel free to tell your candid views as much as you like.

Every time I have had summit talks with the Leaders of your countries, we, both Leaders have reaffirmed that we will cooperate towards the acceleration of negotiations for the early conclusion of a high-quality RCEP.

I understand that the ASEAN is engaging in negotiations with the resolve to conclude the RCEP within 2018. Japan is also determined to conclude a high-quality RCEP together with you with a prospect of future of this region.

I would like all of the distinguished Ministers to move forward the discussions substantially utilizing this momentum towards the early conclusion of negotiations. I tell you once again: "Asia is one."

I would like to stop my remarks here with my sincere wishes that this RCEP Ministerial Meeting becomes a major step toward a bright future for Asia. Thank you so much.