Singapore– The Prime Minister of Singapore, which is hosting the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), on Wednesday warned of the potentially devastating impact of protectionism on the world economy.

Asean — which consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — held a meeting with allies Australia, China, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand to discuss the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement (RCEP), a proposed free trade deal, Efe news reported.

“We are meeting in a critical time. Protectionism and anti-globalization sentiments are on the rise. This can have a devastating impact on the regional as well as the global economy,” Lee Hsien Loong said during the Asean summit.

The RCEP, a free trade pact being negotiated since 2012, which is expected to be finalized by 2019, seeks to bring almost half of the world’s population, 40 per cent of world trade and more than a third of global GDP under the umbrella of a single trade zone.

“The RCEP will be the largest trading bloc, accounting for 45 per cent of the world population,” Lee said, highlighting the economic diversity of the deal’s potential members and the substantial benefits for all parties.

“The conclusion of the RCEP will also send a clear and strong signal of our commitment to multilateral trade. It’s important that we (participants) redouble our economic integration efforts,” the Singapore PM stressed. (IANS)