Friday, February 25, 2005 6:22 AM
Australia, NZ, ASEAN start free trade talks
CANBERRA - Australia began talks on a free-trade pact with New Zealand and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Monday, but said it still backed multilateral efforts to cut trade barriers.
Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile said he believed regional and bilateral trade deals supported wider multilateral trade liberalization through the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Officials from Australia, New Zealand and the 10-nation ASEAN began talks on free trade in Melbourne, and hope to complete negotiations within two years with an aim to start a trade agreement in 10 years.
A trade deal with ASEAN would open up a market with a combined gross domestic product of more than $1,280 billion, Vaile said.
Australia has already signed free trade agreements (FTAs) with the United States, Singapore and Thailand, and has a long-standing Closer Economic Relations agreement with New Zealand.
Australia is also negotiating or preparing for free trade talks with eight countries, including China and Malaysia.
"All of these FTAs make it clear that regional and bilateral trade liberalization, where it is pursued in an ambitious way, can support rather than detract from multilateral liberalization through the WTO," Vaile said.
"While we will negotiate free trade agreements, we do not see this as being at the expense of Australia’s core commitment to the WTO and to progressing the Doha Round of trade negotiations."
Two-way merchandise trade between Australia and ASEAN was worth A$32.8 billion ($25.8 billion) in the year through June 30, 2004, while two-way trade between New Zealand and ASEAN was NZ$5.5 billion ($4.0 billion) in the year through Sept. 30, 2004.
ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and has total annual trade worth more than $720 billion.