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Jacinda Ardern, in Thailand for East Asia Summit, downplays prospect of trade breakthrough

Jacinda Ardern has played down the prospect of a breakthrough in the seven-year long RCEP trade negotiations at this weekend's East Asia Summit.

World leaders, including Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, are gathering in Bangkok from today, joining ASEAN leaders already in the Thai capital.

On the agenda are regional security issues, Thailand's addition of sustainable development, and the gargantuan trade deal in waiting.

RCEP, or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, is a free trade agreement between the 10 South East Asian nations of ASEAN, and China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

The mammoth 16-nation deal comprises roughly half of the world's people and a third of the world's economic output.

India is the latest country to signal displeasure with parts of the deal, first mooted in 2012.

Asked what should be expected from the summit on the RCEP, Ardern said "really just progress".

"We're getting closer to seeing conclusion but it's too soon even now," she told AAP.

"There is a growing ambition that it is concluded."

Like Morrison, Ardern will take a number of bilateral meetings while at the summit, but has not outlined who they will be with.

The denuclearisation of North Korea, Myanmarese persecution of Rohingya and Chinese expansion in the South China Sea will all be discussed between leaders.

Ardern said she would hold the line on activity in the South China Sea, an enormously important stretch for trade to and from New Zealand.

"We fall back on a rules-based order and agreed international law. That's a firm place to stand and so that's been our long standing position on issues like the South China Sea," she said.

"We've continued to support work to conclude the code of conduct that's been worked on for some time around the South China Sea and just to ensure that's consistent with international law."

Ardern wlll also ensure climate change is discussed.

"You see (climate change) being articulated in that way by our Pacific neighbours so I consistently raise the issue of climate change," she said.

"There's also a particular focus on issues around waste. That has a contribution to climate change as well, but particularly the impact on oceans."

The summit has taken on greater importance with the cancellation of APEC in a fortnight's time.

The Asia-Pacific grouping won't meet as planned given the civil unrest in Chile's capital of Santiago, which was to host the event, leaving East Asia Summit attendees to reconsider their bilateral schedule.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke with 1 NEWS ahead of the summit in Bangkok this week. Source: 1 NEWS