TOKYO - Ministers from Asia-Pacific countries negotiating a sprawling free trade agreement will meet this week via videoconference as their year-end deadline for reaching a deal nears, the Japanese government said Tuesday.
The ministerial meeting on Wednesday, the second since August, will take place as uncertainty grows over whether the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership framework will progress to the signing stage without India's involvement.
India, which is concerned that opening up its market would cause its trade deficit with China to increase, said last November it will no longer participate in the negotiations and has skipped subsequent working-level talks.
"The ministers will discuss remaining issues and how to move the negotiations forward," trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama told a press conference. "Japan seeks to play a role in bringing about the signing of the deal this year and for the return of India to the talks."
Besides India, 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea are taking part in the negotiations, which have a record of missed deadlines.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The RCEP deal aims to establish common rules for 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.