BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement will help to strengthen post-pandemic recovery efforts in the region, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah said in an Asian forum on Tuesday.

In a pre-recorded titah at the opening plenary of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference in China, the sultan said RCEP not only demonstrates the participating economies’ commitment towards advancing international trade, but will also drive Asia’s COVID-19 recovery.

Brunei and 14 other Asia-Pacific countries signed the China-led RCEP agreement last November to establish the world’s largest trading bloc, covering 30 percent of the global economy.

China is expected to lead the region in economic growth this year, with the World Bank projecting a 8.1 percent growth for the world’s second largest economy.

However, the growth rate of many Southeast Asian countries are predicted to remain at pre-pandemic levels in 2021.

As the ASEAN chair for 2021, His Majesty said Brunei is honoured to lead the region towards economic recovery.

“During this difficult time, ASEAN has shown its solidarity and joined hands to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, without losing sight of integration efforts.

“The theme, ‘We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper’, affirms ASEAN’s collective commitment to care for its people and prepare for future challenges and opportunities, with the goal of ensuring that the whole ASEAN Community can [achieve sustainable growth],” he added.

The monarch said Brunei’s 13 priority economic deliverables show ASEAN’s determination in focusing its efforts towards the region’s post-pandemic economic recovery, while leveraging on new technologies and digitalisation to ensure sustainable economic growth.

Looking forward to strengthening ASEAN-China cooperation, he said the Belt and Road Initiative would further facilitate the revitalisation of economies.

The initiative can contribute to regional connectivity and further enhance the economic landscape, His Majesty said, adding that there will be new opportunities to work together in many areas and through sub-regional fora such as BIMP-EAGA.

Initiated by China, the Belt and Road Initiative seeks to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks and strengthen Beijing’s economic leadership through infrastructure projects.

This year also marks the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue relations as well as the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

More than 2,600 people from over 60 countries and regions attended the forum over three days. The conference is themed “A World in Change: Join Hands to Strengthen Global Governance and Advance Belt and Road Cooperation”.

Jointly initiated by 29 Asia-Pacific member countries in February 2001, the Boao Forum for Asia serves as a high-level dialogue platform to share insights and proposals on the development of Asia and the world,” Brunei’s Ministry of Finance and Economy said in a statement.