• Kyodo

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Senior officials from Pacific Rim economies began two days of talks Saturday to deepen discussions on a proposed free trade zone in the Asia-Pacific region that will be high on the agenda at an upcoming summit in November.

The officials from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum gathering in Sendai are also hoping to almost finalize an assessment of their past trade liberalization efforts and an envisioned regional economic growth strategy, officials said.

A series of APEC ministerial meetings, including on food security and finance, are set to follow the officials’ talks, culminating in the annual leaders’ meeting in Yokohama on Nov. 13-14, where they will issue a joint declaration.

Japan assumed the rotating chair of the forum this year for the first time since 1995.

At the outset of the meeting, Shigeru Nakamura, international economic affairs ambassador at the Foreign Ministry who is one of the cochairs of the meeting, sought cooperation from the other participants in making a success of the upcoming gatherings.

Promoting regional economic integration is one of the main areas in which APEC has focused its efforts this year, with members tasked to explore “possible pathways” to achieve a proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

But approaches to the creation of the free trade area are disparate among the economically diverse members, with China preferring the so-called ASEAN plus three framework which groups Japan, China, South Korea and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Japan favors “ASEAN plus six,” which adds Australia, India and New Zealand to the framework.

Meanwhile, a U.S.-backed multilateral Asia-Pacific free trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement has raised its profile in recent years as a potential core framework toward creating the free trade area.

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