Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday called for an early conclusion of a regional trade pact that ensures free and rules-based commerce in the face of an increasingly protectionist United states under President Donald Trump.
Japan co-chairs the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, with Singapore, and seeks to take leadership in shaping the pact as an alternative to a Pacific Rim free-trade grouping that Trump abandoned early this year.
In his opening remarks to a meeting of 16 Asian trade ministers, Abe said a pact among the countries that together make up half the global population has an enormous growth potential.
“As we are faced with concerns of the rise of protectionism in the world, all of us in Asia must unite, and our future depends on whether we can keep hoisting our flagship principle of free and fair trade,” Abe told the meeting in Tokyo. He said RCEP is increasingly getting more attention from the rest of the world amid concerns of protectionism, so “Let us be as one and achieve a free, fair and rules-based market in this region.”
Japan hopes to conclude the pact by the end of this year. Members of the initiative, launched in 2013, however still struggle with issues including tariffs, trade in services and investment rules. Japan is also cautious about China’s influence.
The trade group also includes Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Korea.