South Korea, China and Japan have planned to conclude their drawn-out negotiations on a trilateral free-trade deal in 2015, but an agreement may not be achievable unless it is a “high-level and comprehensive pact,” China’s top negotiator to the talks said Tuesday. 

The three nations began their fifth round of talks in Beijing on Monday aimed at slashing tariffs and other barriers among the three leading economies in Asia. Since launching the talks in late 2012, they have reported little progress toward a deal that, if successful, would create one of the world’s biggest economic blocs, with a combined gross domestic product of $15 trillion. 

The Chinese lead negotiator, Assistant Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen, told the state-run China Daily newspaper that the three nations expected the talks to be concluded in 2015, ahead of a negotiating schedule for broader regional trade talks, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. 

Sixteen Asia-Pacific nations, including South Korea, China and Japan, have been in negotiations with the aim of concluding the RECP talks by the end of 2015. 

“The three sides all agreed to accelerate the China-Japan-South Korea FTA negotiations, and we expect to conclude sooner than the RECP,” Wang was quoted as saying. 

“But negotiations are hard to predict. We all have very good intentions to speed up, but we must reach a high-level and comprehensive pact. We will not sacrifice quality for speed, because quality is very important,” Wang said. 

So far, the three nations have made little headway to push forward negotiations. 

During the fourth round held in March in Seoul, they even failed to agree on the broader “modalities” of how to eliminate tariffs and which items should be excluded from a deal, according to Seoul officials. 

This week’s negotiations are expected to focus on how to liberalize three-way trade in 15 areas, including goods, services, intellectual property rights and electronic commerce during the fifth round, which will end Friday, said a Seoul delegate who attended the talks. 

Diplomatic tensions between China and Japan run deep because of competing claims over islands in the East China Sea. Relations between Seoul and Tokyo also remain frayed over Japan’s unrepentant attitude over its wartime atrocities, including the sexual enslavement of women by the Japanese military during World War II. 

Source: Yonhap