Dominion Post. Wellington
Japan proposes huge free trade zone
6 April 2006
By Sue Allen and agencies
Japan’s sponsorship of a vast free trade area including most of Asia, Australia and New Zealand is expected to be on the agenda when Associate Trade Minister Jim Sutton visits Tokyo later this month.
The Japanese proposal, revealed this week, would create a free trade zone covering about half of the world’s population and rivalling the European Union.
The 16 countries in the proposal include the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, (Asean), Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
Takeshi Fujimoto, who is in charge of promoting Japan’s economic partnerships with other countries, said Japan wanted to begin negotiations in 2008 for the conclusion of the pact in 2010.
Mr Fujimoto said Trade Minister Toshihiro Nikai planned to propose the idea at a governmental economic council meeting on Friday.
Alasdair Thompson, chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association northern branch, said the Government should take the suggestion seriously.
It would accelerate free and fair trade under the World Trade Organisation agenda, rather than allowing "lopsided" trade agreements like that between Australia and the United States to win prominence, he said.
It would also ensure New Zealand was not left out of the huge potential markets of Asia.
Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce chief executive Charles Finny, a former trade negotiator for New Zealand, said the deal would open up vital markets such as Japan, Korea and India.
He said reports had talked about a deal that would cover investment, services and tariff liberalisation on goods, as well as wider economic cooperation.
"It’s the sort of thing we are very interested in encouraging."
The so-called East Asian Economic Partnership Agreement could form a market larger than the North American Free Trade Agreement or EU, covering three billion people - or about half of the world’s total population.
Combined gross domestic product would be US$9.1 trillion (NZ$15.1 trillion), one quarter of the world total, according to 2004 data.