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Asian Economies Aim for Trade Deal as Sea Dispute Set Aside

China, Japan and South Korea started talks on a free-trade agreement vital to an Asia-wide deal in a move to forge closer economic ties even as they spar over disputed islands.

The countries, representing three of Asia’s four biggest economies, will hold the first round of talks early next year, they said in a joint statement. Those negotiations are key to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a 16-nation accord also announced yesterday that Southeast Asian countries called “the world’s biggest regional free trade deal.”