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India skips another round of RCEP trade talks

In this Nov. 4, 2019 file photo, leaders from 16 Asia-Pacific nations attend a photo session for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership summit in Nonthaburi, north of Bangkok. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- India sat out the latest round of negotiations for an envisioned 16-nation regional free trade agreement, a diplomatic source said Friday, fueling speculation that it may withdraw from the talks.

    Senior officials from 15 other countries involved in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a sprawling pact that would cover a third of the global economy, held a virtual meeting from Monday through Friday amid concerns over the novel coronavirus.

    India skipped negotiations in Bali, Indonesia, in February, having said in November that it wants to pull out amid concerns that opening up its market would lead to a wider trade deficit with China.

    The countries, including Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, began talks in 2013 but have blown past consecutive deadlines to sign an agreement.

    They are currently aiming to ink a deal by the end of the year, with Japan offering to help India resolve the "outstanding issues" keeping it from returning to the negotiations.

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