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Fresh round of Asia trade talks begins, 1st since U.S. leaves TPP

Senior officials from 16 Asia-Pacific countries began a new
round of talks Monday on what could be an alternative regional free
trade initiative to the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership
began their talks in Kobe for the first time since the United States
left the TPP in January under President Donald Trump, who is now
pushing bilateral rather than multilateral trade deals.

The 16 nations -- the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian
Nations plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South
Korea -- are aiming to conclude RCEP talks as soon as possible.

But tough negotiations are expected given divisions on key
issues, such as the extent to which tariffs would be allowed under an
RCEP deal between Japan, a leading TPP member, and the emergent
economic powers of China and India, which are not included in the TPP

With China, the world's second-largest economy, promoting the
RCEP in the absence of the United States, Japanese Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe, a proponent of the TPP deal, has expressed concerns about
Beijing's possible control over trade in the Asia-Pacific region.

Some Japanese officials who still hope that the United States
will return to the TPP have warned the Abe administration should not
place too much emphasis on RCEP talks but also focus on a high-level
bilateral economic dialogue newly launched through recent talks
between Abe and Trump, according to Japanese government sources.

The latest RCEP gathering, with issues such as deregulation of
investment and service trade on the agenda, is scheduled to end March

RCEP negotiations began in 2013. Member countries have so far
reached an agreement in the fields of economic technology cooperation
and contribution to smaller companies. Among 16 RCEP economies, seven
countries, including Japan and Malaysia, join the TPP deal. (Feb. 27)