Japan set to kick-start pan-Asian free trade area
By Lisbeth Kirk
Japanese minister of economy Toshihiro Nikai is set to unveil plans for a pan-Asian free trade area of 3.1 billion people, half the world's population, Malaysian news agency Bernama has reported ahead of the 38th ASEAN Economic Ministers meeting starting today in Kuala Lumpur.
The free trade area would include ASEAN-countries Australia, China, South Korea, India, Japan and New Zealand and would be promoted by a Japanese fund of 100 million US dollars.
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The Japanese minister will travel to Malaysia on Tuesday (22 August) seeking acceptance for his plan from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministers.
The 39-year-old ASEAN bloc agreed already in October 2003 to set up a single market by 2020, modelled on the EU. But ministers meeting this week hope to speed up the plans and get it ready by 2015.
"We need to muster political will to create the AEC [Asean Economic Community] by 2015, instead of 2020," ASEAN secretary-general Ong Keng Yong said, according to AP.
China and ASEAN have already agreed to create no-tariff zone by 2010 in their combined market of 2 billion people.
At this week's meeting a deal with the US to facilitate trade and investment is expected to get signed. ASEAN is the America's fourth largest trading partner.
ASEAN was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok by Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Cambodia have joined later.
The grouping was originally set up to insure that south east Asian countries would provide a buffer against Communist China.