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18 August 2009

Asean mulls bigger trade bloc

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Trade ministers from Asean and six trade partners are considering an expanded FTA to boost their economies, regional news reports said. The subject was high on agenda at the 41st Asean Economic Ministers Meeting, which ended recently in Bangkok.

According to a feasibility study released Saturday, a broader free trade deal, which will include Japan, South Korea, China, India, Australia and New Zealand would result in 1.3 percent increase in the grouping's gross domestic product.

Thai Commerce Minister Porntiva Nakasai said in a statement after the ministers’ meeting that the intra-regional FTA policy is aimed "to be less dependable on Western markets and interact with Asian countries".

The 16 economic ministers also agreed to set up a working group to explore various approaches of economic integration by examining three main issues: the Products Rules of Origin in each framework; classification of customs tariffs and customs procedures; and various economic cooperation, Thailand's Porntiva said.

The Bangkok meeting also saw China signing an investment agreement with Asean.
China is currently ranked the eighth-largest investor in Southeast Asia with $5.6 billion in cumulative investments in the region as of 2008. Investments in China from the 10 members of Asean amounted to $6.1 billion as of last year.

Earlier on Thursday, Asean economic ministers and Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma signed a long-awaited free trade agreement for trade in goods after more than six years of talks.

Asean and South Korea on Saturday also signed a letter of understanding on the Product Specific Rules of Origin to facilitate trade between two sides.

In addition, Asean member countries, Australia and New Zealand moved closer to an Asean-Australia- New Zealand Free Trade Agreement on Saturday after officials agreed to speed up the process to have the trade deal in place by January next year.



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