Japan, ASEAN finish inking free trade pact: statement

Agence France Presse | 14 April 2008

Japan, ASEAN finish inking free trade pact: statement

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations said Monday they had finished signing a deal to tear down trade barriers between the world’s second-largest economy and the 10-member bloc.

The deal, which is set to come into effect later this year, was formally signed Monday by Malaysia, the last of the 10 members of the ASEAN bloc to sign off.

In a joint statement, Japan and the ASEAN said they looked forward to the early operation of the agreement, saying it would provide "a strong impetus for further invigoration of trade and investment in the region."

Under the pact, which was finalised in November, about 90 percent of trade between Asia’s largest economy and the ASEAN bloc will be tariff-free within 10 years.

It will be the first multinational free trade agreement (FTA) for Japan, which also has been seeking to conclude a flurry of bilateral pacts amid a breakdown in global trade negotiations.

"Japan hopes that the early entry into force of this agreement will further invigorate the trade and investment relations between Japan and ASEAN," Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said in a statement.

He said Japan hoped the deal would also beef up "the strategic partnership between Japan and ASEAN," which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

As a next step, ASEAN members and Japan will start domestic procedures, such as seeking legislative approval, to allow the deal to come into force.

Tokyo has so far reached bilateral deals with eight nations, six of which are in the ASEAN group — Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. The others are Chile and Mexico.

Japan is also exploring the possibility of a wider East Asia trade deal that would include ASEAN plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, but observers say that process is in its infancy.

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source: AFP