East Asia plans FTA

Agence France Presse

Beijing, January 24:

China, Japan, South Korea and 10 Southeast Asian nations will carry out a feasibility study to establish an East Asia Free Trade Area, but it will be a ‘long-term process’ before the bloc is formed, state press said on Monday.

“The free trade area will be established with joint efforts from relevant countries,” Yi Xiaozhun, assistant minister of commerce, told Xinhua news agency. “China, Japan, South Korea and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) have been important export markets and destinations for outbound investment for each other and it has been demonstrated that we have had a good basis for regional economic integration,” Yi said.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao proposed the trade area in 2003, with the leaders of countries that also include Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar agreeing to examine his proposal.

Yi, however, said it would be “a gradual and long-term process” to establish the trade group. He did not say when the feasibility study would begin or what it would entail. China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have already agreed to establish a bilateral free trade area, while South Korea and Japan are both working to sign similar bilateral agreements with ASEAN.

“East Asia is economically the fastest growing region in the world,” Yi said.

Total gross domestic product of economies in the region in 2003, including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and ASEAN reached $7.7 trillion, accounting for 21 per cent of the world’s total, he said.