RCEP nations aim to close free trade deal before end of 2018

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The nations involved in the RCEP negotiations have made a joint commitment to aim for a final deal by the end of the year.

The 16 nations involved in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations have outlined their shared desire to have a deal in place before the end of the year.

Ministers from each of the nations attended the fifth RCEP intersessional ministerial meeting in Tokyo on July 1st to discuss the latest developments and mutual objectives pertaining to the proposed multilateral trade pact, which is designed to create free and liberalized trading conditions across Asia.

The 16 countries - which include the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, plus Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand - have agreed to ask their negotiators to "focus efforts towards achieving a package of year-end outcomes", reflecting the growing importance of securing new trading terms as soon as possible.

These discussions were shaded by a shared awareness of the current risks to the global trade system, with the protectionist policies adopted by the US under President Donald Trump creating a fresh urgency to establish new alliances.

Over the coming months, the RCEP negotiators will be looking to reach agreement on key issues such as tariff reductions, intellectual property protection and cross-border ecommerce. Nations such as Japan are currently in favor of a high degree of liberalization, while others - including China and India - are adopting a more cautious stance.

An official statement said: "The ministers reaffirmed their resolve to work together and see through the RCEP negotiations towards conclusion, and to achieve an agreement that would allow economies of different levels of development to actively participate in and benefit from an open and inclusive regional economic integration."

If successful, the RCEP deal would create one of the world's largest economic blocs, with the 16 nations accounting for roughly one-third of global economic output and trade flows. The countries will be aiming to achieve further progress on the agreement between now and the next RCEP summit in Singapore this August.