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Leaders from 15 Asia-Pacific nations have signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, a huge free economic zone. The ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations along with Japan, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand approved the deal at an online summit on Sunday. The partnership covers about 30 percent of the world's population and GDP. Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide told the summit that Japan has consistently taken the initiative to expand a free and fair economic zone and maintain and strengthen the multilateral free trade system. He stressed that promoting free trade is even more important at a time when the global economy is stagnant and inward-looking due to the coronavirus pandemic. Negotiations on the agreement began in 2012. India was part of the original discussions but declined to sign out of concern about a possible negative impact of low tariffs on domestic industries. Ministers of the 15 countries that did sign have issued a declaration saying they remain open to India joining after RCEP comes into force.
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