A final agreement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) could be reached in 2018 if all goes to plan.
This is according to Iman Pambagyo, chair of the trade negotiation committee overseeing the 19th round of talks for the 16-nation free trade agreement (FTA), who said that a consensus still needs to be reached on several points of contention, while also noting that many important issues have already been settled.
Running from July 17th to 28th in Hyderabad, India, the talks highlighted the important role that the RCEP will play in demonstrating an ongoing commitment to free trade, in the face of mounting protectionism in many parts of the world.
RCEP will be one of the largest trade pacts in history, establishing stronger links between the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - and their six FTA partners, namely Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Korea and India.
All of the member nations are in agreement that a deal would deliver new economic opportunities, including job creation, with the chapters on economic and technical cooperation and small to medium-sized enterprises having already been closed.
Although certain matters are yet to be resolved - with India having expressed concerns about the impact of competition from China - Mr Pambagyo said progress continues to be made, with another round of talks set to go ahead in October this year.
Mr Pambagyo said: "I am optimistic [about concluding the talks]. I keep on saying that we can fix the finishing line. I remain positive. These negotiations could be concluded sometime in 2018, provided the countries accept some more flexibility to help address issues."