India, Japan to sign trade deals with SE Asia
( 2003-10-08 10:23) (Agencies)
Southeast Asia will set a formal seal on Wednesday on ambitions to create a common market encompassing the biggest countries in the region when Japan and India join China by signing plans with the region.
Leaders of the 10-member Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) a day earlier at their annual summit endorsed a plan to transform their region into a giant free trade zone by 2020, although several urged a faster pace if they are to keep up with the rest of the world.
The urgency for the trading bloc has been highlighted by the failure of world trade talks in Cancun. India and Japan will sign agreements similar to the one China reached with ASEAN a year ago that set a framework for such trading blocs.
India is looking east to expand its trade. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Tuesday proposed to accelerate tariff cuts to some of ASEAN's less developed members.
"India is today a country on the move," Vajpayee told a meeting of business leaders. "It is this India that seeks to partner ASEAN in this era of globalization."
Trade between India and ASEAN had grown 25 per cent from less than $10 billion a year ago and the aim of the agreement would be to push trade to $30 billion by 2007 and create a free trade area within 10 years, he said.
The grouping will also sign an economic framework partnership fleshing out an initial agreement reached last year with Japan, the world's number two economy, which accounts for 14.1 percent of ASEAN trade.
"Japan and ASEAN should strengthen their cooperation as the engine behind not just their own mutual prosperity but also the prosperity of the entire East Asian region," Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told the business leaders on Tuesday.
LOOKING TO A FAST-TRACK
ASEAN is already considering advancing its own 2020 deadline as it works on free trade agreements to be completed with China in 2010, India in 2011 and Japan in 2012.
Leaders discussed bringing forward the date and left open the possibility in their Bali Concord II signed on Tuesday.
"The China-ASEAN Free Trade Area is a win-win arrangement," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told the business leaders.
By 2010 the world could see a free trade area with nearly two billion people and gross domestic product of almost $3 trillion in Asia, said Wen, who opened a series of bilateral sessions between the potential free trade partners and ASEAN leaders on Wednesday.
The ASEAN communique underscored the thrust to faster integration and agreed to put 11 key sectors, including electronics, air travel and tourism, on a fast track to cut tariff and non-tariff barriers by 2010 rather than 2020.
A report ASEAN commissioned from business consultants McKinsey highlighted lack of integration, non-tariff barriers and disparate policies that favor competitiveness of single nations at the expense of the group as among problems the bloc must face.
ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand.
Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, a leading advocate of the free trade bloc, poured cold water on expectations for quick progress by a group that has frequently adopted such plans and failed to follow through. He urged proper implementation.
The focus of this summit is on nurturing the economic growth of a region rocked in the past few years by a financial crisis, terror attacks and the SARS virus.
Security was tight on Indonesia's tropical island of Bali where 202 people were killed a year ago in the world's deadliest terror attack since the September 11, 2001, strikes.
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