Agence France Presse | 6 September 2004
Australia, New Zealand, ASEAN agree to FTA talks next year
JAKARTA : The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia and New Zealand agreed on Sunday to launch negotiations on a free trade agreement next year, Australia’s Trade Minister Mark Vaile said.
"The move towards an FTA (Free Trade Area) is a decisive step forward in Australia’s engagement with ASEAN," Vaile said after talks with ASEAN and New Zealand finance ministers here.
Talks are expected to start in January and to be concluded within two years, Indonesian Trade Minister Rini Suwandi said, adding that the parties hoped that trade should be fully liberalized by 2017.
Leaders from Australia, New Zealand and the 10 ASEAN countries will discuss the matter at an ASEAN summit in Laos in November.
Vaile said ASEAN countries accounted for some 11 percent of Australia’s total exports.
"It is a growing market and one in which Australian exporters have an even more important interest," he said.
Vaile said Australia was committed to helping improve ASEAN’s work skills so that the region could better compete in international trade.
Separately, ASEAN economic ministers also held free-trade talks with Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath on Sunday. The ministers dicussed "modalities for tariff reduction," Suwandi said.
ASEAN is also to start free-trade negotiations with regional powerhouses Japan and South Korea next year.
Talks are expected to be completed within two years.
Free trade arrangements with Japan should be in place by 2012 and with South Korea by 2009 for ASEAN’s six more developed members - Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, officials said.
ASEAN’s four other members - Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam - will follow suit five years later.
On Saturday, ASEAN economic ministers and their Chinese counterpart agreed that pacts on trade in goods and services, inked in Bali last year, will be ready for signing at the ASEAN summit in November.
Southeast Asian leaders launched the first phase of a free trade agreement with China at the Bali meeting to create the world’s biggest trade zone by 2010.