The 15th ASEAN-China Summit was held in Phnom Penh on Nov. 19. (File photo/Xinhua)
Countries in the Asia-Pacific region will initiate talks this week toward a landmark free trade pact involving China, Japan, India and other neighboring countries, Shanghai's First Financial Daily reports.
Negotiations on a 16-nation trade bloc, known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), are slated to begin on Nov. 20 in Phnom Penh immediately following the 21st ASEAN Summit.
Once formed, the RCEP is likely to cover half of the world's population and become the largest free trade area in the world. Member countries would have a combined GDP of about US$20 trillion.
Fu Ying, Chinese vice foreign minister, said at a press conference on Nov. 17 that China is expected to make an announcement on Nov. 21 in Phnom Penh that it will join the RCEP talks, as well as speak with Japan and South Korea to start trilateral negotiations for their own free trade area.
Talks aimed at establishing a US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have been moving on apace, prompting major East Asian countries to speed up their own negotiations.
The TPP excludes China, the world's second-largest economy, which is being seen as a major player in the RCEP. China has been reluctant to seek admission to the TPP, preferring to focus on a free-trade arrangement centered in Asia where it would enjoy greater influence.
Additionally, after the Doha Round of global trade talks under the WTO came to an impasse, various bilateral or multilateral free trade agreements have emerged around the world.
The RCEP includes 10 ASEAN countries plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. Its objective is to attain a comprehensive and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement that involves deeper engagement than the existing ASEAN FTAs.
ASEAN has said it expects to talks to commence at the beginning of next year and finish by the end of 2015.
China, Japan and South Korea will likely hold ministerial discussions on Nov. 20 in Cambodia, and are expected to reach an agreement on the launch of three-way free trade talks.
Set to become the world's largest free trade area, the process of negotiations on RCEP and other FTAs could affect the global economic and trade pattern.
The RCEP has a headstart on the TPP because ASEAN already has existing free trade pacts with China, India, Japan, South Korea Australia and New Zealand upon which it can build.