18 July 2008
ASEAN to push for free trade deals: document
SINGAPORE (AFP) - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is expected to endorse a continued push for free trade agreements during talks this weekend, a draft document said Friday.
Foreign ministers from the bloc, known as ASEAN, were to reiterate a pledge to "push ahead with the FTA negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, the EU and India," in the annual talks starting Sunday, a draft joint communique said.
The 10-nation ASEAN was also "looking forward" to the early implementation of a comprehensive economic partnership agreement with Japan, it said.
"Besides economic benefits, the FTAs between ASEAN and its dialogue partners are also strategic linkages that will bind our regions even closer together," it said.
Japan approved a free trade accord with ASEAN in June under which about 90 percent of trade between Asia’s largest economy and the bloc, which has a combined population of 550 million, will be tariff-free within 10 years.
Tokyo has reached bilateral deals with ASEAN members Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
ASEAN has also signed a landmark deal with Japan’s economic rival, China, to create the world’s biggest free trade zone by 2010.
The bloc’s leaders have also adopted a so-called "economic community blueprint" as a guide for efforts to integrate more closely.
"We realise we need to build a community together. Challenge is becoming fierce and stiff," ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan told reporters in Manila recently.
"If we are not able to consolidate, we will not be able to compete and respond and manage the pressure of globalisation effectively as a group."
The expected ASEAN push for free trade deals comes as 30 countries mount a critical bid in Geneva next week to salvage a floundering global drive under the World Trade Organsiation for freer international trade.