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Japan is ready to take a leadership role in finalizing an Asian free trade deal by the end of the year, newly appointed trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said Tuesday, days after his predecessor stepped down over a gift scandal.

With the United States adopting more protectionist trade policies, completing the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, consisting of countries including Japan, China and ASEAN members, is seen as a critical driver for free trade momentum.

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