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Trade ministers in Asia-Pacific to gather for RCEP talks

Trade ministers of 16 countries in the Asia-Pacific region will gather in South Korea this week to discuss the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the trade ministry said Monday.

RCEP is in essence a massive regional free-trade agreement between the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the six countries with which ASEAN has existing free trade agreements, including South Korea, China, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Some 800 negotiators from the member nations will attend the 20th round of talks to be held in the western port city of Incheon from Tuesday to Saturday, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said. 

2016 Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in Laos
2016 Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in Laos

The core agenda of past RCEP negotiations has covered trade in goods and services, investment, economic and technical cooperation and dispute settlement.

The upcoming negotiations will deal with the market access on goods, service and investment, as well as regulations on the place of origin and intellectual property rights, the ministry said. 

China has been pushing for a rapid conclusion to RCEP with a deal mainly focused on lowering tariffs, while Japan and ASEAN countries have demanded a more comprehensive deal covering services and investment.

Given that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead in the water after US withdrawal from the deal, many see RCEP as China's first serious attempt to defend itself as an open trade platform in the Asian region. 

If RCEP is signed in the near future, it will be the world's largest free-trade agreement, covering a population of 3.5 billion and about 30 percent of world trade volume, according to World Trade Organization data. (Yonhap)
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