16 economies to kick off Asian FTA negotiations Thursday


Sixteen economies in Asia and Oceania are scheduled to hold their first meeting Thursday in Brunei on the establishment of a regional free-trade agreement.

Meeting for five days, Japan, the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand will begin discussing reducing or abolishing tariffs and other barriers to expand trade and investment in the region, aiming to conclude talks by the end of 2015.

The area covered by the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, would have a population of some 3.4 billion, around half the global population. The combined nominal gross domestic product is projected to be $20 trillion, around 30 percent of world GDP. This means the size of the RCEP would be equivalent to that of the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade framework now under negotiation.

At the first round of the talks, the member countries are scheduled to set up working teams for trade, services and investment.

But Japan plans to call for an early establishment of working groups in other negotiation areas as well, sources said, pointing out that protection of intellectual property, establishing a level playing field between the member economies and resolving trade disputes are also on the agenda.

In parallel with the RCEP talks, Japan will proceed with the TPP talks and negotiations on a trilateral free-trade agreement with China and South Korea.

By leveraging its achievements in the TPP and three-way FTA talks, Japan hopes to strike a RCEP pact for high-level trade liberalization that scraps investment restrictions and tariffs on such industrial products as automobiles, the sources said.

Public comments on TPP


The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said Tuesday it has published a request for public comments in the Federal register regarding Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks.

Written comments from the public are due June 9, the office said. It will also hold a public hearing July 2 in Washington.

These are part of the U.S. domestic procedures to finalize the decision to accept Japan as a member in the multilateral trade liberalization talks.

The United States agreed April 12 during preliminary talks to allow Japan’s entry into the TPP negotiations. Then, all 11 TPP countries announced April 20 that they were welcoming Tokyo’s participation in the market-opening talks.

On April 24, the U.S. government notified Congress of its intent to include Japan in the talks. Given the 90-day consultation period between the government and Congress, Japan will likely be allowed to join the TPP negotiations in late July.