TOKYO (UPDATE) - Asia-Pacific countries including Japan, China and the 10 members of ASEAN signed a regional trade deal on Sunday covering nearly a third of the global economy, wrapping up eight years of negotiations following the withdrawal of India.
The 15 signatories to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership reached the agreement, aimed at cutting tariffs and establishing common rules in areas such as e-commerce and intellectual property, during a virtual leaders' summit.
RCEP -- also including Australia, New Zealand and South Korea -- will create Asia's biggest free trade zone encompassing about a third of the world's population.
It will be Japan's first trade deal with both China, its largest trading partner, and South Korea as negotiations for a trilateral pact have yet to be concluded.
Speaking to reporters after signing the deal, Japanese trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said the 15 countries were seeking to wrap up domestic procedures quickly and put the pact into effect "as quickly as possible."
Negotiations for RCEP began in 2012, with China pushing it as an alternative to the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership. President Donald Trump later pulled the United States out of TPP talks, and a revised deal was signed among the remaining 11 countries, including Japan.
India said in November last year it will no longer take part in RCEP to address concerns that its domestic manufacturing and agricultural sectors will face stiffer competition from Chinese imports.
A special arrangement will be made to facilitate India's return to the pact, exempting it from a rule barring new entrants to the framework for a certain period, according to Japanese government sources.
Kajiyama hailed the deal as creating new opportunities for Japanese manufacturers and farmers, saying it will "contribute greatly to increasing exports to Asia."
RCEP was expected to fall significantly short of the revised TPP or Japan's trade deal with the European Union in cutting tariffs.
According to a draft of the agreement, Japan will eliminate 61 percent of tariffs on agriculture imports from ASEAN nations, Australia and New Zealand, 56 percent for China, and 49 percent for South Korea, while maintaining tariffs on five product categories -- rice, wheat, dairy products, sugar, and beef and pork -- to protect domestic farmers.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.