Asian Countries On Track To Free Trade Pact

Trade between China and ASEAN is likely to exceed US$200 billion a year by 2008.

SINGAPORE (AP) - Southeast Asian nations and China are on track to establishing a free trade pact with just a number of details to be ironed out, a senior ASEAN official said Monday.
''We are on track on (the) ASEAN-China'' free trade area, said Ong Keng Yong, secretary-general of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Trade between China and ASEAN, expanding by nearly 40 percent a year, is likely to exceed US$200 billion a year by 2008, two years before the free trade area is due to be established in 2010.
''By 2010 is well within our expectations,'' Ong said on the sidelines of a luncheon with American business leaders in Singapore.
Plans were set in 2002 for a free trade area with China that will create a market of about 1.8 billion consumers—more than a quarter of humanity—and trade totaling more than US$2 trillion (euro1.6 trillion).
Countries have already begun slashing tariffs on some products, though tough negotiations continue on loosening trade restrictions for finance and other service industries.
''Some services still (need) to be ironed out,'' Ong said, without elaborating. He said negotiations on how the agreement will cover investments between the China and ASEAN will hopefully be completed by the end of the year.
ASEAN is a key market for Chinese manufacturers, as well as a source for energy, rubber, minerals and other natural resources.
ASEAN's members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam—countries ranging from some of Southeast Asia's most affluent to some of its poorest.
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