BANGKOK – (AP) – New Zealand said on Thursday it would not deal with Myanmar under a major trade agreement between 15 nationslargest in the world that came into force this year, citing deadly violence and democratic setbacks in the Southeast Asian country after the military seized power last year.
Two Asian diplomats told The Associated Press that New Zealand had notified other members of the regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which includes China but not the United States, that it would not recognize the ‘instrument of ratification’ of Myanmar – the key document binding a country to the free trade pact – because it opposes its military government.
It is not immediately clear whether New Zealand’s action would lead to Myanmar’s exclusion from RCEP.
The Myanmar military wrested power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s government was elected on February 1 last year in a takeover that triggered widespread street protests and civil disobedience. Around 1,500 civilians were killed by the security forces, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners. Suu Kyi, 76, remains in custody with other ousted officials and faces a series of charges that human groups say are baseless.
New Zealand was among the Western countries that quickly opposed the takeover, suspending all high-level military and political contact with Myanmar and calling on army chiefs to immediately release all political leaders and restore civil rule. He also imposed a travel ban on Myanmar generals.
Asked by the AP for comment, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said: “New Zealand has maintained a position of principle on Myanmar, and this includes our position that the regional economic partnership global does not apply between New Zealand and Myanmar at this stage. time.”
“New Zealand remains gravely concerned about the situation in Myanmar and continues to call for an immediate cessation of violence and the release of all those arbitrarily detained by the military regime,” the spokesperson said.
The punitive action underscores the growing fallout of the Myanmar crisis on the economic and diplomatic spheres. It remains unclear whether other leading nations included in RCEP, such as Japan, Australia and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which have also expressed concern at about Myanmar, would follow.
One of the two diplomats who spoke to the AP said ASEAN member states were individually assessing New Zealand’s action and may soon announce their position. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity due to a lack of clearance to discuss the matter publicly.
ASEAN foreign ministers were meeting in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, on Thursday to discuss regional issues, including Myanmar. It is unclear whether New Zealand’s decision against Myanmar would be raised, but the diplomat described the issue as “a big deal”.
ASEAN member Myanmar did not attend the Phnom Penh meeting in a protest regional bloc demand that he send a non-political representative in place of his military-appointed top diplomat, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin.
ASEAN’s decision to restrict Myanmar’s participation reflects the group’s growing frustration over Myanmar’s failure to honor a five-step agreement last year, which includes a pledge by its military chiefs to allow a ASEAN Special Envoy to meet with Suu Kyi and other detained leaders to foster dialogue. aimed at alleviating the crisis.
The diplomat said RCEP would continue to be enforced despite New Zealand’s decision not to commit Myanmar to the China-initiated free trade deal.
Originally, RCEP would have included about 3.6 billion people and encompassed about one-third of global trade and global GDP. Although India gave up before the agreement was signed in November last year, it still covers more than 2 billion people and almost a third of all global trade and commerce.
The agreement reduces tariffs on thousands of products, streamlines trade procedures and provides mutual benefits for member countries. Experts say it is expected to boost trade in the region by 2%, or $42 billion, both through increased trade and trade diversion as tariff rules change.
The countries involved in the agreement have expressed hope that the initiative will help them recover from the pandemic.
Gomez reported from Manila, Philippines. Associated Press writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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