TOKYO - Singapore and Japan both hope that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement will reach "a substantial conclusion" by this year, said Singapore's Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in Tokyo on Saturday (June 30).
He made the point at the outset of his first bilateral meeting with Japanese counterpart Hiroshige Seko, since taking over the portfolio from Mr Lim Hng Kiang in May.
Mr Chan, who is in Tokyo on a three-day visit ending Monday, will co-chair with Mr Seko on Sunday a ministerial meeting for the 16-nation trade deal led by Asean.
"We want to move forward our bilateral economic ties, and we will work closely with you, whether bilaterally or multilaterally, to further our common objectives," Mr Chan told Mr Seko at the meeting.
He was accompanied by Mr Lim, now special adviser at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, as well as Singapore's ambassador to Japan Lui Tuck Yew.
Likewise, Mr Seko too pledged to deepen bilateral economic and trade relations and to work with Singapore on multilateral economic frameworks.
These include the RCEP, for which a target has been set to reach an agreement this year - potentially at the Asean summit hosted by Singapore in November - although hurdles still remain.
And there is also the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal, for which Japan's Parliament passed the Bills required for ratification on Friday.
Japan will still have to revise the relevant government ordinances before ratification is finalised. These revisions will likely be completed by early July, paving the way for Japan to be the second country in the 11-nation bloc after Mexico to ratify what is known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the TPP-11.
Revised after the United States pulled out last year, the pact will come into force 60 days after it is ratified by at least six member countries. Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia, Canada, Chile, New Zealand and Peru are also parties to the deal.
On Sunday, trade ministers and officials will gather in Tokyo for a RCEP ministerial meeting. Besides the 10-nation Asean bloc, it also includes Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
The RCEP countries together account for nearly half the world's population, and about 30 per cent of global trade and the world economy.
Comparatively, the TPP-11 accounts for 7 per cent of the global population, about 15 per cent of global trade and 13.5 per cent of the world economy.
The TPP-11 has been upheld as the gold standard of multilateral trade deals, while the RCEP is seen to be less rigorous.
Some TPP-11 member countries like Japan and Australia have been pushing for similarly high standards to be applied to the RCEP. But some countries like China and India have been more cautious.
The RCEP comprises 18 chapters, of which just two have been concluded - in the areas of economic and technical cooperation, and small and medium-sized enterprises. It is understood that some countries are poles apart on the extent of liberalisation in areas like intellectual property.
Separately, Singapore and Japan are undergoing their third review of their bilateral free-trade agreement, which had come into force in 2002.