Members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have reaffirmed their commitment to bringing their free trade talks to a conclusion.
During the most recent summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), leaders from the 16 RCEP nations held their first meeting since the partnership was launched in 2012, confirming that efforts to strike a deal will be intensified during 2018.
RCEP is planned as a large-scale multilateral free trade agreement involving the ten ASEAN member states and six key partners - China, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
These 16 nations account for almost half of the world population, 31.6 per cent of global output and 28.5 per cent of world trade, meaning the 20 rounds of negotiations held thus far have thrown up several challenges.
However, all of the member nations remain convinced of the benefits of the deal, particularly given the recent rise of protectionism and anti-globalization sentiments.
A joint statement said: "We reaffirmed our resolve to ensure that RCEP delivers its potential to be a key driver of growth and equitable economic development, and serve as a pathway to further integrate our economies."