BEIJING - Members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation are accelerating efforts to explore possible ways to realize regional economic integration, according to a senior official of the organization.
Regional economic integration will be a key issue on the leaders' agenda when they meet at the annual summit of the APEC forum scheduled for November in Yokohama, Japan, said Ambassador Muhamad Noor, executive director of APEC.
"Our leaders will review the possibility of pathways that we can use to realize a region-wide free trade area in the Asia-Pacific... maybe we can merge or combine some of the existing free trade areas," Noor told China Daily.
APEC has discussed and analyzed the concept of building a region-wide free trade area over the last two years. A regional free trade zone would increase its 21 members' real GDP by 1.14 percent, said an economic analysis.
"The concept of a free trade area in the Asia-Pacific is now firmly on the regional agenda, though economies have different views of the timeframe in which it might be possible," said Stephen Payton, New Zealand's senior APEC official, said in an e-mail interview.
Possible pathways to materializing a region-wide free trade zone include all economies in the region agreeing to commence new negotiations or combining existing free trade areas, he said.
However, it seems most likely it will be achieved through a building-block approach, either building on a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement or building on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its trade agreements, Payton said.
But Xu Ningning, executive secretary-general of China-ASEAN Business Council, said this unlikely.
"The aim of broader regional cooperation is good, but the urgent need for Southeast Asian countries is building the ASEAN community. ASEAN's cooperation with the three East Asian nations of China, Japan, and South Korea has just started. Southeast Asian countries have lots of work to do and I haven't seen any special enthusiasm for an Asia-Pacific free trade zone," Xu said.