Japan has banded together with 15 other Asia-Pacific nations during the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit held this year in Cambodia to start talks on a free trade agreement that would create a market composed of 3 billion people who make up 30 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will be composed of the 10 ASEAN members – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – and six regional partners – China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. The members have set a goal of completing the RCEP negotiations, which are expected start next year, by 2015. The deadline might somewhat be ambitious considering the challenges faced by the group composed of diverse cultural backgrounds. A number of these nations are also currently embroiled in territorial disputes.
An official from the Ministry of Econoomy, Trade, and Industry has said that Japan is willing to play a leading role in the RCEP. The country is likely to greatly benefit from the agreement because of its interest in greater access to markets in the region. Japan is also currently engaged in three-way free trade talks with East Asian neighbors China and South Korea. The move to form the RCEP coincides with the U.S. pushing for a large free trade bloc through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which also includes RCEP members Australia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Although it has mentioned supporting all three economic frameworks, it has not yet formally announced any involvement in the TPP, which has been met with opposition from Japanese farmers who fear competition from cheaper produce imports.