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East Asia FTA can be done in 10 years, says Ong

Bernama, Malaysia

East Asia FTA Can Be Done In 10 Years, Says Ong

8 August 2006

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 8 (Bernama) — A free trade agreement (FTA) between Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) and China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and India (East Asia FTA) is possible in the next 10 years, Asean secretary-general, Ong Keng Yong, said Tuesday.

"It can be done. All you need is to get all the governments to sign on a piece of paper," he said, on suggestion that 10 years were too ambitious.

Ong said signing the FTA with Japan would be great as it would give investors in Asean region greater confidence.

"As for Australia and New Zealand they are developed economies.

"Their exports here are things that we don’t produce in large quantities such as cheese and milk.

"They also import a lot of goods from this region," he said after the Asean Lecture 2006 by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi here Tuesday.

He, however, said FTAs with developed countries were not easy to achieve as the systems and the bureaucratic thinking were different from that of Asean.

"Given that Asean has trade links with all these countries, it makes sense to liberalise trade and the investment sectors further.

"In the long run, Asean can probably include more countries in its FTA," he said.

Ong said to achieve such a goal, Asean, however, should first iron out the differences among themselves, especially in harmonising the rules of origin and issues relating to investment regimes.

"We are seeing more meetings at the technical levels within the Asean countries to iron out these issues.

"It will be easier to negotiate FTA once we have settled the basic technical issue.

"The target for the Asean community is 2020, so we hope that the East Asia FTA (Asean+6) can be concluded by then," he said.