TOKYO (Kyodo) — Leaders of 15 Asia-Pacific countries plan to strike a regional free trade agreement on Sunday without India, creating an economic bloc representing around a third of the world’s gross domestic product and population, sources familiar with the matter said Monday.
The members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership are hoping to sign the deal during an online meeting of their leaders, putting an end to negotiations that began in 2013, the sources said.
“The negotiations are in the final stage. I want to exert leadership toward an agreement,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at an executive meeting of his Liberal Democratic Party.
It will be Japan’s first signing of a free trade framework that includes China and South Korea.
China is Japan’s biggest trading partner representing around 21 percent, or more than 33 trillion yen ($318 billion), of its trade in 2019.
The deal, cutting tariffs and establishing common rules for e-commerce, trade and intellectual property, is likely to benefit Japanese companies with manufacturing bases in the countries covered by the bloc.
A ministerial meeting is slated for Wednesday to make preparations for the online summit.
India declared in November last year that it would not participate in the negotiations due to concern that opening up its market would cause its trade deficit with China to grow.
In the absence of India, the 15 countries met online in August and agreed to continue efforts to bring New Delhi back to the negotiations. But they are leaning toward prioritizing their goal, set last year, of signing the deal by the end of 2020, according to the sources.
The 15 countries’ ministers in charge of the trade negotiations said in a joint statement at the time that with the coronavirus pandemic disrupting global supply chains and hitting regional economies, the RCEP agreement could play a “significant role” in reviving growth.
Besides India, RCEP groups Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.