• Kyodo


Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed here Tuesday to begin negotiations next year to build an “economic partnership” over the next decade.

At their annual summit, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his counterparts from the 10 ASEAN members signed a joint declaration outlining a framework to forge a comprehensive economic partnership “as soon as possible within 10 years.”

Japan signed the declaration one day after China and ASEAN signed a framework agreement to complete a free-trade zone by 2010.

Koizumi and the ASEAN leaders agreed to establish a committee consisting of senior government officials from both sides who will draft a framework by next year’s summit for an economic alliance, “including elements of a possible free-trade area.”

The declaration says the partnership would liberalize trade and spur growth between Japan and ASEAN, bringing greater stability and prosperity to the region and nurturing a sense of community.

The value of exports from ASEAN to Japan is expected to increase $20.63 billion by 2020, equivalent to 44.2 percent of those in 1997. The value of exports from Japan to ASEAN would increase by $20.02 billion, equivalent to 27.5 percent of that in 1997, the declaration says.

Japan and ASEAN “should seek a broad-based economic partnership covering not only liberalization of trade and investment but also trade and investment promotion and facilitation measures . . . and cooperation in other areas,” it says.

The facilitation measures would include customs procedures, standards and conformance, and nontariff measures, while cooperation would be promoted in such fields as financial services, information technology, tourism and energy.

Koizumi and ASEAN leaders also agreed to try to form an FTA between Japan and ASEAN as a whole, while also allowing any ASEAN nation to enter into individual negotiations with Japan to forge a bilateral free-trade arrangement.

Japan has signed only one bilateral free-trade pact, with Singapore, and is considering similar arrangements with Thailand and the Philippines. Indonesia and Malaysia have expressed interest in creating a bilateral free-trade area with Japan.

“It is important to promote comprehensive economic partnership step by step before aiming at formation of the FTA,” Koizumi told reporters later in the day, noting that each country has a different economic environment and moves toward economic cooperation should not be made in haste.

Japan and ASEAN have a combined population of 590 million — 11 percent of the world’s total — and a combined gross domestic product of $4.9 trillion, 18 percent of global GDP.

During Tuesday’s summit, Koizumi and the ASEAN leaders agreed to designate next year as a year of exchange and hold a commemorative two-day summit in Tokyo beginning Dec. 11.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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