SINGAPORE (Kyodo) -- Trade ministers from 16 countries that are negotiating for an Asia-wide free trade pact began a two-day meeting in Singapore on Thursday with the hope of making "a significant breakthrough" that will enable them to strike a deal by the end of this year.
"We hope...to achieve significant breakthroughs in our negotiations" for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said in a speech at the start of the meeting, adding that the target is for a "substantial conclusion" by year-end.
He said there are a few outstanding issues "that are ripe for political decisions to be made."
The ministers are expecting to discuss the RCEP until late Thursday and the whole of Friday, the minister said.
"I could sense the determination of everyone around the table that this is an opportunity that we need to seize because of the current challenges that we are facing in a global economy and global trading environment," he said.
He added that the participants are aware of the fact that next year various countries will have "various domestic preoccupations, and we really need to build on the momentum and try to get the task substantially done by the end of this year."
The next official round of RCEP negotiations is slated to be held in Auckland in October this year.