Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. (Source: AFP/VNA)

Singapore (VNA) - Negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have reached a “critical stage” and a conclusion is “finally in sight”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on August 29.

In his opening speech at the 50th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting (AEM) and related meetings on August 29, strengthening regional economic cooperation and integration is key for ASEAN to fully realise its potential. 

This includes pressing on with the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint 2025, as well as supporting an open and inclusive multilateral system amid growing trade conflict, he said.

The Singaporean PM noted that escalating trade tensions between the US and its key trading partners have put the rules-based multilateral trading system, which has underpinned ASEAN’s growth and prosperity, under pressure.

Each ASEAN member state is also subject to different pulls and pressures from bigger powers, he said. 

“In these circumstances, all the members must stay united and strive to maintain our cohesion and effectiveness,” according to Lee.

On RCEP, ASEAN has “exerted significant effort” to make progress. 

Lee said: “Given the diversity of RCEP’s members, we all have to make trade-offs and compromises. But we should weigh these against the significant strategic and economic value of the RCEP.” 

RCEP comprises the 10 ASEAN countries, plus Japan, China, the Republic of Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. Together they account for about one-third of global gross domestic product and half the world's population.-VNA