Regional economic integration of Asian Nations

Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed on Sunday to start implementing a planned free trade area (FTA) with economic powerhouse India in January next year. Under the plan, tariffs on 105 products will be gradually cut under an early harvest program (EHP) with the prospect of zero tariffs by 2007. The products include unprocessed agriculture products, chemical and manufactured products. Leaders of the regional grouping are expected to approve the plan at a summit in November this year in Vientiane, Laos. The decision was taken during the last day of a three-day ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) meeting here, where trade and economic ministers from the 10 member countries of the regional grouping met with their counterparts from the region's key trading partners to push FTA plans and boost economic cooperation. It was agreed during a leaders summit in Bali last year that the more developed countries of ASEAN would set up a fully fledged FTA with India by 2011, with the new members of the grouping following by 2016. ASEAN founding nations are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, while Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam joined later, informs the Jakarta Post. According to the Herald Sun, Mr Vaile was speaking on the sidelines of his meeting with ASEAN, during which ministers formally decided to enter negotiations for a free trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand. The decision, which will be endorsed at the ASEAN leaders summit in Laos in November, was initially made in April, but yesterday was the first time that Mr Vaile had met directly with his counterparts to discuss it. Yesterday, the ASEAN economic ministers agreed to begin negotiations for the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand deal in 2005, and complete them within two years. The agreement would be comprehensive, and would begin focusing on services (excluding financial services), food, IT, consumer items and electronics. A controversial push from within ASEAN to ask Australia and New Zealand to liberalise their tariffs first will be one of the subjects to be discussed during the negotiations. Economic and trade ministers from Australia, New Zealand and the 10-member Asean are at the meeting in Jakarta. Asean, Australia and New Zealand trade ministers have reached agreement on terms to recommend to their leaders for initiating a free trade agreement. In April, Asean proposed launching free trade talks with Australia and New Zealand and a final decision on whether to begin negotiations will be made at the Asean leaders' summit in Laos in late November. Prime Minister Helen Clark plans going to that meetings. A spokeswoman for Mr Sutton said the Government would undertake a round of consultation with industry and other stakeholders about such an agreement. Asean consists of Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia. Mr Sutton told NZPA the decision by the Asean, Australian and New Zealand ministers on terms to take to leaders recommending they start negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) was a major and necessary step towards regional economic integration, reports the Staff.

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