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A man looks at a screen showing Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaking during the virtual APEC CEO Dialogues 2020, at its command center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia November 20, 2020.Malaysia Information Department/Reuters

Japan aims to expand a major regional free trade pact called the CPTPP, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Friday, potentially catering for China’s and Britain’s interest in joining the deal.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) links 11 countries including Canada, Australia and Japan.

“Japan will aspire for the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific through the early conclusion of the RCEP agreement and the steady implementation and expansion of the CPTPP as next year’s chair,” Suga said.

The premier made the comment in a pre-recorded video message delivered at the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) CEO Dialogues, ahead of a leaders’ virtual summit later in the day.

RCEP, or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, is the world’s largest free trade deal signed this month by 15 economies, while the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific is potentially an even larger pact the 21-member APEC has been aspiring to.

A spokesman for the Chinese commerce ministry said on Thursday his country was open to the idea of joining the CPTPP, while Britain earlier this year announced its intent to pursue accession to the pact.

The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, is scheduled to travel to Tokyo next week, marking the first high-level visit between the two countries since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Japan’s foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi said at a regular briefing on Friday.

Meanwhile, during his APEC speech, Suga, who became prime minister in September, reiterated his key policy priorities – digital transformation and reduction of greenhouse gases.

“As people’s behavioural patterns shift due to COVID-19, accelerating digital transformation is crucial,” he said.

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