November 21, 2007
ASEAN-JAPAN : FTA
Japan, ASEAN welcome new free trade deal
SINGAPORE (Thomson Financial) - Leaders of Japan and the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations hailed Wednesday the conclusion of talks on a free trade pact, which they hope to implement as early as next year. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and his ASEAN counterparts put the finishing touches on the deal at a meeting in Singapore. No date has been set for the signing.
"The leaders welcomed the successful conclusion of the negotiations for the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement," a joint statement released after the meeting said.
"The leaders expressed confidence that the agreement will provide a strong impetus for further invigoration of trade and investment."
Under the deal, about 90 percent of trade between the world's second-largest economy and the Southeast Asian bloc will be tariff-free within 10 years.
The deal will be the first multinational free trade agreement for Japan, which has also been seeking to conclude a flurry of bilateral pacts amid a breakdown in global trade negotiations.
Japan has so far reached bilateral deals with eight nations, six of which are in ASEAN -- Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. The other two are Chile and Mexico.
Japan's regional rivals, China and South Korea, have also sealed economic partnerships with ASEAN, but a Japanese official told reporters that Japan's deal was the best of the lot.
"The economic partnership between Japan and ASEAN is comprehensive, covering not only cutting tariffs on products but also many other areas such as service, investment and economic cooperation," the official said.
"In that sense, Japan is not behind moves by China and South Korea."
South Korea's trade deal with ASEAN went into effect earlier this year, while ASEAN and China are expected to form a bilateral free trade area by 2010, which would cover nearly two billion people.
Japan is exploring the possibility of a wider East Asian trade deal that would include ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, but observers say this process is in its infancy.
"The vision of a trade pact among ASEAN and the six nations is slowly coming together," said a Japanese trade official who asked not to be identified.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
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