ASEAN, China Ink Trade, Cooperation Pacts
Beijing says it wants to play a ''leading role'' in developing East Asia
VIENTIANE, Laos - 12/02/04 - The ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have taken a major step closer to creating a European Union-type trade bloc and, at the same time, have inked a cooperative agreement with China that would create what would be the world'../eWebPhotos/chinaasean3a.jpg" align=left vspace=15 border=0>the year 2010.
The pact with China - signed by representatives of each of the ASEAN's member countries and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao - calls for eliminating tariffs on a broad range of agricultural and manufactured products over the next several years and the establishment of a mechanism to resolve trade disputes.
According to press reports, he also signed a "strategic declaration" that commits China to "good behavior" in the Southeast Asian region, including any and all activities on the chronically contentious South China Sea.
In his speech to the assembled officials, Wen outlined Beijing's "grand concept" for an East Asian community that he said China wanted to play a "leading role" in developing, said reports.
Deeper cooperation among the nations that would culminate in such a community is a "strategic choice made in the interests of China's own development and in the common interests of the region," he was quoted as saying.
The new trade agreement was the first concrete step toward a China-ASEAN free trade area by 2010, an idea China - not a member of the group - originally put on the table for consideration more than two years ago.
Two-way trade between the members of the ASEAN and China is expected to top more than $100 billion this year.
China's influence weight was also evident in a decision by the summit leaders on Monday to push forward by three years, to 2007, the date when tariffs on intra-ASEAN trade would be abolished in 11 major groups of products, including textiles but excluding automobiles.
M. C. Abad, a spokesman for the ASEAN's Jakarta-based secretariat general, told the press at the summit that the 11 groups - including autos, textiles, and electronics - constitute more than 50% of intra-ASEAN trade.
The six-year plan foresees the removal of tariffs for products by 2010 for ASEAN's six wealthier, more developed members - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand - and 2015 for less-developed Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, he said.
ASEAN members signed a separate agreement to liberalize tariffs in 11 key sectors, including autos, textiles and electronics, by 2007 for their six more developed members and 2012 for the remaining four.
The tariff reductions are, analysts have said, are key measures in ASEAN's vision to establish a single market of more than 500 million people and forge an economic bloc capable of standing up to rising competitors such as India and China.
The ASEAN, originally created in 1967 and revived in the mid-'70s, has also signaled its intentions to start free trade negotiations with Japan and South Korea sometime next year.
Both Australia and New Zealand, attending the ASEAN summit by invitation for the first time, hope to announce the start of their own talks on a free trade deal.
"If ASEAN is looking to bulk up its economic weight as an economic counter to the emerging strength of China and India, then a relationship in trade terms with New Zealand and Australia makes the most sense," said New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.
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