The New Zealand government Friday invited public submissions on its negotiations on a proposed new free trade agreement covering 16 major trading nations of Asia and the South Pacific. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), also involving the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Australia, was launched in November last year. "This is a significant development for New Zealand, which will help us deepen our links with Asia. Asia is critical for New Zealand's future as a source of growth, markets, investment and talent," Trade Minister Tim Groser said in a statement. "This allows New Zealand to be a part of a major trade initiative in the dynamic East Asian region. The countries which have committed to RCEP represent markets of more than 3 billion people, almost 20 trillion U.S. dollars in combined GDP and around 27 percent of world trade." The RCEP would cover trade in goods and services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement and other issues. The submissions would inform New Zealand negotiators on the views and interests of New Zealand investors, exporters and importers of goods and services, non-government organisations and individuals, he said. Submissions would close on March 8 to allow analysis before the first round of talks early this year. New Zealand already has separate free trade agreements (FTAs) with Australia, ASEAN and China, and is negotiating FTAs with India and the ROK. New Zealand is also involved in negotiations for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA, which critics claim is being used by the United States to exclude China from future Pacific trade agreements and to lock in protections for major corporations.