ASEAN, Australia, N.Z. envision free trade area
SINGAPORE, Oct. 1 Kyodo
Despite tension in bilateral ties, Indonesia agreed Friday to go along with the vision of Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand setting up a free trade area by 2010.
Economic ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their counterparts from Australia and New Zealand agreed at a Singapore meeting Friday to set up a task force to study creating a free trade area.
The area, to be consistent with the World Trade Organization (WTO), will link the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CER).
“As an ASEAN member of course we are open to this and supportive as well,” Indonesia’s Director General in the Department of Industry and Trade Hatanto Reksodipoetro said at a news conference after the meeting.
“We are of course in support of the study to…achieve a better trade relationship with the CER.”
Australia’s Trade Minister Mark Vaile swiftly followed up by commenting “Australia deeply values the relationship between CER and AFTA. We see a future in the region based on a strong, prosperous and secure region.”
“Obviously in the current circumstances, we also deeply value our bilateral relationship with Indonesia,” he said, referring to rifts in the relationship since Australia took the lead in international forces now trying to restore order in troubled East Timor.
The feasibility study will be completed in 12 months and will be submitted to the next ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting, expected to be held in Thailand next October.
“The study would examine the potential of an AFTA-CER free trade area and the adjustments required, including the flexibility needed by the four new members of ASEAN,” said a joint statement issued by the ASEAN and CER ministers after the meeting.
The statement also said the ministers “called for the launch of a New Round of multilateral trade negotiations at the third WTO ministerial conference to be held at Seattle in November.”
ASEAN exports to the CER increased by 16.6% last year to 9.7 billion dollars from 8.3 billion dollars a year earlier.
The meeting with the CER is part of a weeklong series of meetings being held in conjunction with the ASEAN Economic Ministers meeting Thursday.
ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The four newest members are Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam.
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