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ASEAN must make trade offer: NZ PM Clark

The Age, Melbourne

ASEAN must make trade offer: NZ PM Clark

21 November 2007

AAP. South-East Asian nations need to put a better offer on the table if they want a free trade deal with Australia and New Zealand, Prime Minister Helen Clark says.

Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders this week signed a blueprint to create a 10-nation free trade zone encompassing over half a billion people by 2015.

Ms Clark has been attending the ASEAN-organised East Asia Summit, which also takes in China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Summit supporters have suggested a region-wide free trade zone taking in all 16 countries is possible by 2015.

But Ms Clark on Thursday said ASEAN would need to speed up progress on its individual free trade agreements with each of the summit countries.

She said negotiations between ASEAN and Australia and New Zealand were dragging as offers from ASEAN countries were not good enough.

"New Zealand and Australia are offering 100 per cent tariff removal if there is a significant degree of reciprocity from the ASEAN nations, but not all ASEANs are willing to step up to the plate for a good agreement.

Ms Clark said she would like to see faster progress.

"We’d point out that Australia and New Zealand combined have a total GDP of around the same size as all of ASEAN, so we approach negotiations with ASEAN on pretty much a level footing," she said.

"We are looking for ASEAN now to apply to its trade negotiations the knowledge it has of what trade has done to lift living standards for those countries in ASEAN that have embraced it fully."

Summit leaders on Wednesday received a progress report on the Japanese-funded Closer Economic Partnership for East Asia study, which looks at the potential benefits of a region-wide free trade bloc.

Ms Clark said leaders would receive the completed study at next year’s summit in Bangkok.