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16 Asia-Pacific nations agree to conclude free trade talks soon

  • May 22, 2017
  • , Kyodo News , 10:31 p.m.
  • English Press

HANOI — Ministers from 16 Asia-Pacific countries agreed Monday in Hanoi to conclude a regional free trade deal swiftly, with their joint statement expressing their hope to strike a deal by the end of this year, which falls in the “milestone year” of ASEAN’s 50th anniversary.


The two-day gathering of members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership came as the region is seeking to promote free trade with the outlook for the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal uncertain after the withdrawal of the United States in January.


The RCEP involves the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The trade framework, which accounts for more than 3.5 billion people, or half the world’s population with 30 percent of global gross domestic product and trade, is viewed as a crucial regional trade pact and an alternative to the TPP.


“The ministers reaffirmed their commitment to meet the leaders’ mandate for a swift conclusion of the RCEP negotiations,” the statement said.


The ministers also noted that the substantial conclusion of the RCEP has been identified as a “priority deliverable in this milestone year” of 50th anniversary of ASEAN’s founding, according to the statement.


However, it remains uncertain whether the 16 nations will make concessions, with some countries including Japan seeking high-standard trade and investment rules, while China and others are looking for swift implementation of a deal mainly covering tariff matters.


The participating ministers also affirmed the importance of all member countries’ cooperation to address the differing levels of economic development among them in striking a deal, a move expected to allow special treatment for developing countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.


The RCEP negotiations formally started in 2013.


The 16 member countries plan to hold a working-level meeting in July and October, and a ministerial meeting in September ahead of a leaders’ meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November.

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