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Asia-Pacific nations rush to conclude trade deal amid tensions

Ministers from 16 Asia-Pacific countries begin talks in Beijing on Aug. 3, 2019, aimed at concluding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement. (Kyodo)

BANGKOK (Kyodo) -- Amid concerns over rising trade tensions and uncertainty about global economic growth, officials of 16 Asia-Pacific countries have voiced their commitment to speeding up negotiations for an Asia-wide free trade pact, with the hopes of concluding it by November, Thailand said Tuesday.

    The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is being negotiated among the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

    Auramon Supthaweethum, director general to the Trade Negotiations Department under the Commerce Ministry, announced Tuesday that a Southeast Asian nations economic ministers meeting and a RCEP ministerial meeting will be held Sept. 3-10 in Bangkok.

    She said ministers will attempt to complete the RCEP negotiations in the hopes the trade pact will help promote trade growth in the region.

    "The 16 Asia-Pacific countries have acknowledged that they need to conclude the talks so that the pact can be implemented as soon as possible to promote trade growth amid uncertainties about global growth," Auramon said.

    The RCEP talks began in 2013, and the initial goal was to wrap them up in 2015. But the deadline has been postponed repeatedly.

    The delay reflects the challenge in creating what would be the world's largest free trade area with so many negotiating members amid the rise of protectionism and tit-for-tat tariffs between the United States and China.

    According to the department, 7 of 20 RCEP topics have yet to be agreed upon, including, rule of origin, investment, and intellectual property. But it is hoped that progress can be made in those areas during the September meetings and that a deal can be announced by RCEP officials on Nov. 4, when an ASEAN leaders summit wraps in Bangkok.

    The RCEP encompasses more than 32 percent of global gross domestic product worth roughly $27.3 trillion, 48.1 percent of the total population, 31.3 percent of world's exports and 30.4 percent world's imports.

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