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Ministers meet to strike 16-nation free trade deal

Kyodo

Sixteen Asia-Pacific nations, including Japan and China, were Monday set to begin their first ministerial-level negotiations toward the creation of one of the world’s largest free trade blocs.

At the meeting in Brunei, ministers of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their six regional partners were expected to discuss ways to proceed with talks on lowering or eliminating tariffs for the envisioned Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

The meeting comes just days before Brunei hosts a round of talks for creating another free trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Japan joined the TPP talks last month as the 12th member.

The RCEP economies announced the start of talks in November 2012 and held the first round of working-level negotiations in May, aiming to conclude a deal by 2015.

Designed to bring together the 10 ASEAN countries, Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, the successful conclusion of the RCEP will result in a free trade zone covering over 3 billion people and one-third of the world’s economic output, according to the government.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

As the nations are at various stages of economic development, bridging their differences for a deal that involves deeper engagement than existing ASEAN-related trade agreements appears to be a difficult task.

While many members of the TPP negotiations overlap with those of RCEP’s, the TPP does not involve such emerging powerhouses as China and India.