China, Japan and South Korea launched talks on Tuesday for a free-trade agreement in an attempt to curb the economic backlash from mounting tensions over territorial disputes.

Trade ministers from the countries “formally” launched negotiations for the trade pact on the sidelines of the East Asian Summit in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, aiming to start talks early next year, AFP reports.

The three-way talks will create a major trade bloc among the region’s economic powerhouses – if successful – which accounts for about 20% of global gross domestic product. According to the Japanese government, trilateral trade reached $514.9 billion in 2011.

Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano, speaking after the meeting between trade ministers, claimed that progress was made and expressed hopes that it help ease political tensions.

“There are various issues between Japan and China, Japan and South Korea, but they remain our valuable neighbors,” Mr. Edano told The Nikkei.

“The countries are already heavily dependent on one another economically,” Takeshi Komoto, a senior negotiator at Japan’s Trade Ministry, told the Wall Street Journal.” A free-trade agreement will invigorate the three economies and provide an incentive to maintain good diplomatic relations.”

Analysts said the trilateral agreement between the East Asian nations could pave the way for a broader Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that will encompass 16-Asia Pacific countries.