- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told CNBC on the weekend that he's willing to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, with just 13 countries "for the time being."
- But Indonesian Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita indicated that he's not settling for such an arrangement.
- "I spoke with the trade minister of Malaysia, basically all of us agree that we want 16 member countries (to) be on board," Lukita said.
All 16 countries negotiating a mega Asia-Pacific trade agreement will remain in the framework — despite suggestions that the deal could go on without some countries including India, said Indonesia's trade minister.
The countries have set a target to conclude negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, by the end of 2019. The 16 countries involved in RCEP trade deal are the 10 Southeast Asian nations plus six of their large trading partners: China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
Talks have been going on since 2013 and China, impatient with the slow progress, earlier proposed going ahead without India, Australia and New Zealand, according to a report by Nikkei Asian Review. India's reluctance to open up its markets has been a major sticking point in negotiations, the report said.
"We believe that 16 countries will be on board in RCEP," Indonesian Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita told CNBC's Tanvir Gill in Thailand where he was attending a summit for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had told CNBC on Saturday that he's willing to conclude the deal with just 13 countries "for the time being."
But Indonesia's Lukita indicated on the same day that he's not settling for such an arrangement.
"I spoke with the trade minister of Malaysia. Basically, all of us agree that we want 16 member countries (to) be on board and we believe that 16 member countries will be on board for the RCEP," Lukita said.
He said it's "normal" that some parties disagree with one another at the negotiating table. He added that some of those countries are ironing out their differences bilaterally, but all 16 nations are expected to reach a broad agreement by the end of this year.
If RCEP is finalized, the 16 countries will form a major trading bloc that covers around one-third of the world's gross domestic product.