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International relations

RCEP meet in Bangkok ends with no significant progress

Outlook for year-end deal remains unclear but countries pledge to continue talks

Ministers from some of the participating RCEP countries join hands at the conclusion of the meeting in Bangkok. (Photo by Rie Ishii)

BANGKOK (Kyodo) -- Ministers from 16 countries negotiating for an Asia-wide free trade pact failed to make significant progress in a meeting Sunday held in the Thai capital, according to Japan's representatives.

Speaking to reporters after the one-day talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership ended, Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said there were no new areas of agreement.

With no concrete progress apparent, the outlook for reaching a deal by the end of this year remains unclear.

According to Seko, South Korea did not speak about tightened Japanese export controls, as it did in last month's meeting in Beijing.

He voiced optimism of the countries clinching a deal by the end of the year, saying the negotiations are coming to a close.

The participating countries released a joint statement pledging to give their negotiators the resources and authority necessary to conclude the negotiations.

Working-level talks will next be held in Vietnam from Sept. 19 to 27, aiming for their leaders to announce an agreement at the third RCEP summit in November.

RCEP, covering a third of the global economy, has a history of missed deadlines with varying degrees of ambition among the members that include the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Talks began in 2013 and the initial goal was to wrap them up in 2015.

They are negotiating in 18 areas including the abolishment of tariffs on goods such as industrial products, trade in services, intellectual property rights, economic and technical cooperation, and legal and institutional issues.

RCEP groups Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, as well as the 10 ASEAN countries -- Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand plus TPP members Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

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