A ministerial meeting to negotiate the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which is joined by a total of 16 nations, including Japan, China, India and Association of Southeast Asian Nations members, will be held in Tokyo on July 1 for the first time outside the ASEAN. Japan is looking to lead negotiations with an eye on concluding the talks within the year. Whether to clinch a deal with China on rule-making over e-commerce and other fields, which Japan prioritizes, will become the key.
The RCEP negotiations began in May 2013. Of the 18 fields that have been thus far negotiated, the 16 countries agreed on only two fields concerning smaller businesses and economic technical cooperation. The ASEAN sought to conclude the talks within last year, but gave up.
In March, Japan announced its support for ASEAN’s goal of reaching an agreement within the year at a ministerial meeting held in Singapore on the condition that a certain level of quality will be secured for fields concerning market entry and rule-making.
Japan’s shift to accelerate the RCEP negotiations is driven by the U.S. Trump administration, which has been introducing protectionist policies, including import restrictions on steel and aluminum. There are concerns that Japan may be pressed to face further assertiveness by the U.S. as a Japan-U.S. new trade talk mechanism will be put into action in July. Japan wants to check the U.S. by taking the lead in the early conclusion of the RCEP negotiations and the early effectuation of the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact.
But negotiations on fields that Japan prioritizes may not go smoothly. With an eye on China, Japan demands the stronger protection of intellectual property rights and the free distribution of data across the borders as huge amounts of personal information that can be obtained through e-commerce and electric payment may affect companies’ competitiveness. But China is stepping up efforts to contain data as its IT firms are burgeoning thanks to e-commerce and e-payment. The division runs deep.
Japan hopes that its improved ties with China will help move forward the RCEP negotiations. “With trade friction intensifying between the U.S. and China, China wants to show the world that it is an advocate of free trade,” a Japanese government official said. (Abridged)