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CANBERRA, Nov 16 AAP

November 16 2012, 1:48PM

Australia will push for a new regional trade deal at the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Cambodia next week.

Leaders of 16 nations are expected to agree to talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) at the seventh EAS in Phnom Penh, which Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Trade Minister Craig Emerson will attend.

RCEP would involve the 10 members of ASEAN plus Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and India.

The 16 nations account for about half the global population and a third of the world's annual gross domestic product.

ASEAN sources say the talks could be concluded by the end of 2015, covering a broad range of goods, services and investment.

The agreement would bring together existing ASEAN free trade agreements, including the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA which is being seen as a benchmark for the broader deal.

Dr Emerson would not put a timeframe on the new agreement.

"Once you put timeframes on the completion of negotiations that haven't yet started you end up being wrong," Dr Emerson said.

"The RCEP proposal ... is one pathway to the mountaintop of a free trade area for Asia and the Pacific and we'll be in there vigorously negotiating for it."

During the summit, Ms Gillard is expected to meet with US President Barack Obama and other proponents of another trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

There is also the prospect of bilateral meetings with leaders from China, Japan, Brunei and Thailand.

Regional security will also be on the agenda, with President Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao key figures in finding a peaceful settlement over the disputed territories in the South China Sea.

Australian National University's Dr John Blaxland told AAP that security and "regional confidence building" would be key issues at the summit.

"China's approach to the South China Sea is going to be on everybody's minds, but how much China is prepared to allow that to be a point of discussion we will wait and see."

Dr Blaxland said Australia was being seen as a "respectful and important contributor" to the region.

The summit will start on Monday with a gala dinner hosted by Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen and conclude on Tuesday.

By Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer