Asia-Pacific leaders to negotiate on free trade area
- Published: 20/11/2012 at 07:09 PM
- Online news:
PHNOM PENH : Leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region agreed Tuesday to start negotiations early next year to create what would be the largest free-trade area in the world.
The commitment to negotiate the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was made at the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Phnom Penh by the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and potential partners in the region - Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
The countries aim to complete negotiations by the end of 2015, according to a declaration by the participating countries.
China, Japan and South Korea also began talks for a separate free trade agreement when their trade ministers met on the sidelines of the EAS. The three are are embroiled in bilateral maritime disputes that have frayed diplomatic ties, .
Southeast Asian leaders stand with their counterparts during a photo session of the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Photo by AFP)
Talks will start in earnest early next year, the three said in a joint statement.
China is also locked in a series of territorial disputes with four planned members of the RCEP - the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei - and tensions over those rival claims flared yet again at the Cambodia talks.
But Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said all parties understood that they could not afford to let the disputes hold back lucrative trade agreements.
"The effort is to try to isolate the two issues," he said. "Economic integration will have to go forward... because everybody is going to benefit from this new architecture."
The launch of talks for both trade pacts came amidst a particularly deep strain in ties between China and Japan, Asia's two biggest economies, over competing claims to islands in the East China Sea.
Their trade relationship, which is worth well over US$300 billion (11.7 trillion baht) a year, has suffered as the escalation in tensions fanned nationalist flames.
Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea are locked in another row over islands in waters between their countries.
Tensions boiled over in August after a surprise visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to the Dokdo islands, known as Takeshima in Japan.
But, if successful, the three-way talks would create one of the world's biggest free-trade zones. Trade between the three countries already totalled $514.9 billion in 2011, according to the Japanese government.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra adjusts her earphones at the start of Asean Global Dialogue session of the Asean and East Asia summits in Phnom Penh. (Photo by Reuters)
The Chinese government, which has eschewed top-level talks with Japan during the rise in tensions, nevertheless saw the advantage of pursuing the free trade agreement.
``We have to take the FTA of Japan, China and South Korea in a broader context, that is East Asia cooperation,'' Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Phnom Penh.
``We believe that the FTA will be a very important vehicle in forging a broader trade arrangement in this region.''
The RCEP offers potentially even greater riches, with the 16 nations involved currently accounting for half of the world's population and a third of global economic output.
All the countries have bilateral FTAs with Asean on which they can build.
Iman Pambagyo, Indonesia's director-general for international trade, told AFP that he expected closer trade ties between the rival nations would help them better manage their decades-long territorial disputes.
``At the end, it is economic development and improvement of well-being that matters the most... with improved welfare comes moderation,'' he said.
About the author
Writer: AFP and dpa