TOKYO, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- Members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) began talks on Monday on a variety of issues including the possibility of creating a substantial regional free trade economic zone, in the first such talks since the United States ditched the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) under President Donald Trump.
The latest meeting held in Japan's port city of Kobe, on the north shore of Osaka Bay, brought together 16 Asia-Pacific nations, comprising the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members, as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, with agreements already made on economic and technological cooperation.
With the United States looking to direct itself toward securing more bilateral rather than multilateral or free trade deals, the senior RCEP officials are keen to come to a general consensus on issues of tariffs in the new economic zone, as well as how major economies can support developing ones.
Other issues tabled for discussion between the senior officials in talks here through Friday, include the "13 Fields," which comprise universal rules on investment and e-commerce, as well as the elimination or significant reduction of certain trade tariffs.
Iman Pambagyo, director general of international trade negotiations at Indonesia's Trade Ministry, in his role as chair of the meeting in Kobe, said that the current talks are key to establishing free trade deals in the region and boosting broader global growth.
If RCEP's fundamental premise comes to fruition, economists believe that the new economic zone could account for about 30 percent of the world's gross domestic product, even without the support of the United States.
RCEP member countries, as pointed out by proponents of the initiative, collectively, have a significant economic clout, with member countries accounting for almost 20 percent of U.S. goods imports in 2016.
While there remains some issues regarding the scope of the tariffs to be reduced or eliminated between some member countries, the talks are garnering a great deal of attention since the U.S. abruptly ditched the TPP, with major economies in this region keen to secure fair and balanced, high-level trade liberalization that benefits all member nations.
"Like the TPP, Japan is aiming for high quality agreements in the RCEP talks," Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said on Monday, with regard to tariffs and arriving at agreeable solutions on a number of rules including, for example, on intellectual property protection.
The first round of RCEP negotiations took place in 2013, yet while the negotiations have hit some stumbling blocks in the past, the 16 nations' senior officials, this time around, have resolved to conclude the talks as soon as possible.