KUALA LUMPUR – Free trade agreements that a grouping of Southeast Asian countries has with China, Japan and South Korea will be “upgraded” by year’s end to boost services and investment sectors, Malaysian trade minister Mustapa Mohamad said.
Trade ministers from the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Sunday held individual and joint talks with the grouping’s three dialogue partners China, Japan and South Korea.
Mustapa said they discussed “upgrading” their FTAs to make them more “comprehensive.”
ASEAN and Japan in 2008 concluded their FTA, which covers only trade in goods. Negotiations are ongoing on the services and investment sectors.
The grouping’s FTA with South Korea was concluded in 2006 and also covers only trade in goods, while the one with China, which covers goods, services and investments, is being fine-tuned.
“We will try to reach an agreement so that by the November summit we will have some achievements to report to our leaders,” Mustapa told reporters.
The FTAs will help ASEAN and the three partner nations reach trade targets they have set by 2020, which is $1 trillion with China and $200 billion with both Japan and South Korea, respectively.
ASEAN also has concluded FTAs with Australia and New Zealand. It is in discussions with India on the ratification and entry into force of trade in services and investment agreements.
Meanwhile, Japan on Sunday announced plans to provide ASEAN countries with know-how about credit guarantees for small companies.
The plans were unveiled by Yoichi Miyazawa, Japanese minister of economy, trade and industry, during the meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
Under the plans, Japan is expected to help ASEAN member countries build databases necessary to run credit guarantee programs.
Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, Miyazawa expressed Japan’s continued support for ASEAN’s economic development. ASEAN is key to Japan’s growth strategy, Miyazawa said.
ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.