TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hailed a deal to create the world's largest free trade area Tuesday as the start of a "new century" for Asia, and expressed hope China might one day join the historic accord.
"A huge economic zone will emerge... the TPP will make our lives more prosperous," Abe said in a televised news conference after a dozen nations reached a deal on the long-awaited Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
"It's the opening of a new century for the Asia-Pacific region," he said, adding that the deal would "fundamentally strengthen rule of law in economic activities by establishing a free, fair and open international economic system".
Spanning about two-fifths of the global economy, the hard-won agreement -- which took five years to negotiate -- aims to set the rules for 21st century trade and investment in the Pacific region.
China notably is not party to the negotiations and has embarked on plans to set up a rival agreement.
But Abe said he hoped Beijing would sign up one day and boost regional security.
"If China participates in this system in the future, that will contribute to both Japan's security and the stability of the Asia-Pacific region," he said.
Under the deal, 98 per cent of tariffs will be eliminated on everything from beef, dairy, wine, sugar, rice, horticulture and seafood, through to manufactured products, resources and energy.
Abe has been a leading flag-waver for the TPP and in doing so has taken on the country's entrenched agricultural lobby, usually staunch advocates of his Liberal Democratic Party.
"Melons made in Hokkaido, pears made in Oita... and delicious rice... will have a great opportunity" to access the global market, he said.
Abe also noted that Japan secured exclusion in the TPP's tariff-free principles for some of its domestically sensitive products -- such as the country's staple food rice, sugar beet, beef, pork and in dairy.
"With strengthening in rules on intellectual property rights and measures to address piracy and counterfeit goods, Japan's contents business will enjoy entering foreign markets with a sense of safety," he added.
The accord must still be signed and ratified by the respective countries, including Japan.
Car manufacturers in the export-heavy economy are likely to benefit from the TPP.
"We welcome that tariffs on automobile parts will be removed immediately between Japan and the United States, and with Canada, relatively high tariffs on vehicles will be removed in a short period of time," Fumihiko Ike, chairman of Honda as well as of the Japan Automobile Manufacturing Association, said in a statement.