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The Winner: Pak Iman Pambagyo, Indonesian Ministry of Trade: Shepherding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations

Pak Iman has been a trade negotiator from Indonesia managing multiple important talks over the past decade. For this award, however, the key aspect has been his tireless shepherding of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations.  Pak Iman has been the overall head of these negotiations since the beginning.  In October 2017, he will chair his 20th round of official talks.

RCEP brings together a diverse and complex set of countries working to create a comprehensive free trade agreement that will knit members together across Asia in ways that have never been attempted.  RCEP members– Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam–account for almost half of the world’s population, nearly 30 per cent of global GDP and over a quarter of world exports.

The process of negotiations has been complicated.  Pak Iman has had to manage talks on multiple levels simultaneously.

First, he has had to work with his own Indonesian government to ensure backing for RCEP and additional trade liberalization moves in the region.

Second, he has had to work with the ASEAN caucus to ensure that the 10 member states within ASEAN can find common ground in each round on nearly every policy position.  Without a similar stance coming from ASEAN, no policy can move forward within RCEP.

Third, he has had to ensure that ASEAN’s positions will find favor with the so-called Dialogue Partners in the RCEP negotiations (Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea).  In many cases, the trickiest negotiations have been between Dialogue Partners, since many of these countries will be opening markets to one another through RCEP for the first time.  Pak Iman has been involved in some delicate bilateral talks to ensure that all parties find common ground for moving forward with different proposals.

Fourth, he has had to work with an expanding set of stakeholders.  In 2017 in particular, RCEP began opening some of the sessions to civil society groups and business entities for engagement.  Pak Iman has patiently met with diverse groups and explained the RCEP process on the ground in negotiating rounds and in outside sessions as much as his mandates from the group have allowed.

RCEP was originally meant to close in 2017.  This has not happened.  Instead, the negotiating agenda has expanded with the addition of new chapters during the year.  This has increased the complexity of talks.  The leader’s summit in November will instead focus on substantial outcomes with a new goal of finishing up next year.  Getting this agreement finished at a relatively high level of quality, however, is worthy of delay, as the benefits to business of common rules across 16 countries in Asia is substantial.

Pak Iman bears much of responsibility for getting the deal this far – his own, low key approach to pushing RCEP forward with every round has kept parties at the table, talking through solutions when their initial response was to stop progress entirely.


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