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Economy

Setting tariff parameters by August next step for East Asian pact talks

TOKYO -- Establishing targets for tariff elimination will be the focus of the third round of talks for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade agreement, which opened in Malaysia Tuesday.

     The RCEP includes Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

     Although the participants' views vary widely on how soon and by how much the levies should be reduced, they will seek to outline the scope of tariff elimination by August.  Australia and the Asean propose identifying some duties to be lifted immediately and others to be removed in five years. The Asean is also considering a separate framework for lower-income countries.

     Japan holds that the pact should set a single liberalization rate independent of a time frame and is calling for a 90% rate or higher within 10 years. It also proposes taking recent imports into account, aiming to protect its tariffs on agricultural products.

     China and South Korea deem preset goals unnecessary, but such targets have been a cornerstone of the negotiations.

     Aside from China and Korea, none of the other participants have voiced clear objections to the 90% target, and negotiations will likely center around Japan's proposal. Setting a target by the August ministerial meeting would be a major step toward concluding the agreement by the end of 2015.

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