• Kyodo

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Negotiators from 16 Asia-Pacific countries ended their eighth round of talks to promote a deal that would free up their trade early Sunday, falling short of setting any ambitious goal of eliminating tariffs.

The working-level meeting, which began last Monday in Kyoto, involving the largest economies in Asia under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, preceded their leaders’ talks in November, when the participating countries will aim to reach a broad agreement, officials said.

To make a breakthrough, the negotiators agreed to hold ministerial meetings on July 13 and in late August in Malaysia.

They are likely to keep discussing some sticking points, most notably how much of their imports should be subject to negotiations for removal of tariffs.

“It may be difficult to reach an agreement by the end of the year but there is still a possibility,” a Japanese official said after the talks.

Efforts under RCEP have paralleled with similar but more high-profile talks under the Trans-Pacific Partnership, led by the United States and widely seen as entering a make-or-break stage with its 12 members, including part of RCEP, struggling to narrow their differences.

RCEP groups the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. It would create a free trade zone covering nearly half of the global population and some 30 percent of economic output in the world.

Japan and the ASEAN members — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — suggested that tariffs on 80 percent of imports be scrapped, while China, India and South Korea want a target of 40 percent to protect their domestic industries, sources familiar with the negotiations said earlier.

Australia and New Zealand are also aiming for ambitious rates, according to the sources.

In addition to abolishing tariffs on trade in goods, particularly in the areas of auto and agriculture, they are also discussing setting up rules on services trade, investment and protection of intellectual property rights.