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Giant new Asian trade deal on agenda

The Press, Christchurch

Giant new Asian trade deal on agenda

By Colin Espiner - The Press

21 October 2009

Prime Minister John Key will discuss a new Asia-wide trade agreement in Thailand this weekend.

Leaders of 16 countries, including those of Southeast Asia, China, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand, will meet for a fourth time at the East Asia Summit to talk trade, climate change and regional security.

On the agenda is a pan-Asia economic partnership plan that could pave the way for the largest free-trade area in the world.

If approved by leaders, work will begin on tariff elimination and trade and economic co-operation between the 16 countries that would eclipse the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement in its scope.

Officials say a deal would add about 2 per cent, about $800 million a year, to New Zealand’s gross domestic product.

Although New Zealand is not a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), it is now a permanent member of Asean+6, which includes China, India, South Korea, Japan and Australia.

The grouping represents more than half the world’s population and its fastest-growing economies. Six of the group are also members of the powerful G20 group of industrialised nations.

The leaders are also expected to discuss December’s international talks in Copenhagen on climate change, as well as security issues. Key has bilateral meetings organised with Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese leaders.

Key will fly to Kuala Lumpur after the summit to meet new Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and join Trade Minister Tim Groser, who will sign a free-trade deal agreement with Malaysia.

Key will then go to Japan to meet the Emperor and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.