Illustrative image. (Photo: Asean.org)

Hanoi (VNA) – Philippine Secretary of Trade and Industry Ramon Lopez on May 8 urged negotiators of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to speed up talks, reaffirming the need to conclude the free trade deal this year.

Opening the 18th round of RCEP negotiations, Lopez said the negotiators need to keep the momentum of the talks going and encouraged all parties to achieve a sustainable conclusion of the “high-quality and credible agreement” by the end of this year.

He said 17 rounds of negotiations have been held so far since RCEP talks were launched in 2012 and they are moving forward despite the challenges.

At the end of the 30th ASEAN Summit last week, ASEAN leaders instructed their ministers and negotiators to accelerate efforts building on the progress achieved thus far.

The leaders also reiterated the commitment of ASEAN member states to work together in a cooperative manner in line with the guiding principles and objectives for negotiating the RCEP towards the swift conclusion of the RCEP negotiations.

The RCEP is a large-scale free trade agreement, aiming to tie together ten ASEAN member states and their trade partners, including Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and New Zealand.

The pact will expand the ASEAN market from 600 million to 3.5 billion people, representing about half of the world’s population.

Its negotiations started in November 2012 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and was initially scheduled for conclusion by the end of 2015.-VNA