Tokyo — Asian trade ministers have taken another step towards what could be the world’s biggest trading bloc, expressing hope that a deal could be signed by the end of 2018. Ministers from the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes China, Japan and India but not the US, met in Tokyo on Sunday to thrash out remaining differences. "The path towards a year-end agreement is now clearer," said Hiroshige Seko, Japan’s trade minister at a media conference on Sunday. "As protectionism concerns increase globally, it’s important that the Asian region flies the flag of free trade." If fully achieved, the partnership would also include the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well as South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, covering one-third of the world’s economy and almost half its population. While the agreement does not seek to impose higher standards in areas such as labour and environmental protection, like the 11-nation Compreh...

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