Seventh round of RCEP trade negotiations to be held next week

05/02/2015    51

SEJONG, Feb. 5 (Yonhap) — A fresh round of negotiations for a regional free trade agreement, known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), will be held in Thailand next week, the Seoul government said Thursday.

South Korea will take part in the seventh round of RCEP negotiations in Bangkok from Monday through Friday, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

The negotiations currently involve 15 other countries, including China, Japan and all 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The others are Australia, India and New Zealand.

The upcoming round, first this year, comes after the countries agreed to conclude their talks before the year’s end.

More negotiations, including ministerial talks and a summit, will be held this year to strike what is expected to be the world’s largest free trade pact.

If signed, the RCEP will create an economic bloc whose member countries account for about 45 percent of the global population and over 30 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, according to the ministry.

Officials say that the negotiations, however, are still in their early stages as the countries are still struggling to agree on the level of market liberalization.

"At the upcoming round, the countries are set to discuss key elements of the agreement, including the level of market opening for products and the method and level of market liberalization for the service industry and investment," the ministry said in a press release.

The RCEP negotiations were first held in May 2013.

South Korea already has a separate free trade agreement (FTA) with ASEAN, as well as bilateral free trade pacts with Australia, India and Singapore. It has also concluded bilateral FTAs with China and New Zealand.