“It is a crucial year for Malaysia as we hold the chairmanship of Asean in 2015 and our target is to conclude the RCEP negotiations,” he said.
However, there are challenges in achieving it as it involved 16 countries, he said.
“Having said that, we recognise there are challenges. Even bilateral negotiations sometimes take time to conclude and here we are negotiating with 16 countries of different level of economy development,” he said during a press conference here on Thursday.
RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA), which involves 10-member countries of Asean and six other nations namely Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
The negotiations for RCEP, which involves 3 billion people and a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$17 trillion, were formally launched in November 2012 at the Asean Summit in Cambodia.
RCEP will cover trade in goods, trade in services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement and other issues.
The agreement will encompass trade in goods and services, economic and technical issues, intellectual property and investments and dispute settlement mechanisms.
Mustapa, who is here on a three-day trade and investment mission, said he believed by becoming an economic community by end of the year, Asean would emerge more attractive to investors.
“On average, Asean is growing between 5-6 per cent, the CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) countries are growing at 8-9 per cent. We believe it will be a very important economy player by 2020 with its growing potential,” he said.
As for Asean-India ties, he emphasised on developing closer partnerships to tap the huge unrealised economic potential between Asean and India through greater business-to-business and people-to-people collaboration.
He said this during a seminar on “India-Malaysia Trade and Economic Cooperation in the Context of Indian Economy Dynamism and India’s Act East Policy,” organised by Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS).
Asean and India already have a FTA on goods, while the trade pact on services and investment would come into effect on July 1, 2015 onwards.
“Malaysia and India has strong bilateral ties and with Malaysia being the chair of Asean this year we hope it (ties) would strengthen further,” he emphasised.
India and the Asean set a trade target of US$100 billion by 2015. As of 2011-2012 trade between Asean and India stood at US$80 billion.