MANILA -- Leaders of the 16 nations negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed Asia-Pacific free trade deal, resolved on Tuesday to conclude the talks within 2018. The plan had been to finalize a deal this year.
"I am optimistic that our meeting will give the negotiations that much needed political momentum" to steer RCEP to completion, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who chaired the latest talks in Manila, told his counterparts in his opening remarks.
Duterte reminded the participants that the goal is to craft a modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership. "It is important to recall the point of RCEP," he said. "It is not simply an added trade agreement but a trade agreement that could provide the size and scale to unleash new growth potentials and write the new rules of the game of the international trade order."
RCEP brings together 16 countries -- the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. Five ministerial meetings and 20 rounds of negotiations have been held over the past five years.
If the pact comes to fruition, it would create one of the world's largest free trade blocs, covering nearly half the global population and more than a third of gross domestic product.
In previous meetings, China has pushed for a rapid conclusion while Japan and Australia have sought a high-quality agreement that goes well beyond lowering tariffs -- covering services and investment.
Separately, 11 Asia-Pacific countries are moving ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal -- including Japan and six other RCEP participants. The 11 players decided to go forward despite the withdrawal of the U.S. earlier this year; China is not included in the TPP.
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