BEIJING – The trade ministers of China, Japan and South Korea pledged Sunday to step up their negotiations on a trilateral free trade agreement and a wider Asia-Pacific deal.
Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama and South Korean Industry Minister Sung Yun-mo met in Beijing ahead of a trilateral summit involving the leaders of the three countries on Tuesday in Chengdu.
A key focus was on whether Kajiyama and Sung would have contact during their stay in Beijing, but the two did not. Tokyo and Seoul are seeking to mend relations that have fallen to their lowest point in years amid a dispute over wartime labor compensation and export controls.
The three-way trade ministerial meeting is held on a rotating basis by the three nations. The last one took place in Tokyo in October 2016. China, the chair of this year’s gathering, has recently been keen to bolster economic cooperation with neighbors including Japan and South Korea to offset its shrinking exports, which have been damaged by the tit-for-tat trade dispute with the United States.
Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul “should ensure peace and stability in the region and promote development and prosperity of the global economy,” Zhong told his counterparts at the outset of the meeting, which was open to the media.
To boost exports, a key driver of economic growth, Beijing has also been eager to conclude the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which includes Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. RCEP’s leaders last month gave up on attaining their goal of sealing the giant pact by the end of the year because India was reluctant to lower its trade barriers, citing its massive annual trade deficits with China.
The RCEP, covering a third of the global economy, has a history of missed deadlines and members with varying degrees of ambition. The negotiations began in 2013 with an initial goal of wrapping up in 2015.
Accounting for half the world’s population, RCEP also includes the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.