The Mainichi (26/08/2020) - TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Ministers from Asia-Pacific countries negotiating a sprawling free trade agreement will virtually meet this week with the aim of reaching a deal by year-end, while maintaining hope that India will return to the talks, the Japanese government said Tuesday.
The ministerial videoconference, the second this year, will take place on Thursday, as uncertainties grow over whether India will remain part of the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership framework.
India, which is concerned that opening up its market would cause its trade deficit with China to grow, said last November it will no longer participate in the negotiations and has skipped subsequent working-level talks.
Besides India, 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand are taking part in the talks, which began in 2013 but have a record of failed deadlines for signing a deal.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The RCEP deal aims to establish common rules on e-commerce, trade and intellectual property. It will cover a third of the global economy and half the world's population, if India is included.
From Japan, Hiroshi Kajiyama, minister of economy, trade and industry, will participate in the meeting, held remotely due to the new coronavirus pandemic.
"Vietnam, which chairs the RCEP framework (for this year as ASEAN chair), has invited India to join Thursday's meeting but I have not heard its response," a senior ministry official told reporters Tuesday.
When the RCEP ministers last met online in June without India, they released a joint statement emphasizing that "the RCEP remains open for India."
At Thursday's meeting, the participants are expected to discuss rules on market access and other unresolved issues as well as how to deal with India, the official said.
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