New Zealand will not engage Myanmar in largest free trade bloc

Bangkok: New Zealand said Thursday it will not deal with Myanmar under a major 15-nation trade agreement, the world's largest that took effect this year, citing the deadly violence and democratic setbacks in the Southeast Asian country after the military takeover last year.

Two Asian diplomats told The Associated Press that New Zealand notified other members of the Regional Comprehensive Regional Partnership, which includes China but not the United States, that it would not recognize Myanmar's instrument of ratification the key document binding a country to the free trade pact because it opposes its military-led government.

It's not immediately clear if New Zealand's action would lead to Myanmar's exclusion from RCEP. Myanmar's army wrested power from Aung San Suu Kyi's elected govt on February 1 last year in a takeover that sparked widespread street protests and civil disobedience. About 1,500 civilians have been killed by security forces, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Suu Kyi, 76, remains in detention with other ousted officials and faces a raft of charges that human groups say are baseless.

New Zealand was among Western nations that quickly opposed the takeover, suspending all military and high-level political contacts with Myanmar and calling on army leaders to immediately release all political leaders and restore civilian rule.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said New Zealand has maintained a principled stance on Myanmar, and this includes our position that the RCEP does not apply between New Zealand and Myanmar at this time.

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