ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan sees Japan as an influential player in pushing for free trade and economic integration between the regional grouping and its major trading partners.
In an e-mail exchange last week, Surin, a former Thai foreign minister, also said the speed of economic tieups, particularly between Japan, China and South Korea, will be a driving force for regional economic integration.
“With its substantial business interest in the region, it would not be surprising to see Japan exerting its influence on the direction regional economic integration is to be pursued,” he said. “Most of the economies in the region are still dependent on Japan not only for trade and investment but development assistance as well.”
Surin said he believes that the establishment of a tariff-free regime among the six major members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has created a “solid foundation” for free trade in East Asia.
But Surin cautioned that the process of removing all trade barriers within the region won’t come quickly.
“Creating a regionwide FTA could still take quite some time,” he said. “Suffice it to say, regional economic integration involving the ASEAN Plus Six countries would also be driven by the speed of integration among the Plus Six countries, particularly China, Japan and (South) Korea.”
The other three are India, Australia and New Zealand.
Economically, Surin said he believes free trade in East Asia, which accounts for half of the world’s population, would have a global impact.
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