At a time when maritime tensions involving China are under the spotlight, Asia-Pacific trade ministers agreed Sunday to promote regional economic integration and draft a road map, possibly by the end of the year, for creating a new free trade area.

"We are committed to further advancing the Asia-Pacific's role as an engine of the global economy through increased cooperation and mutual support," the ministers said in a statement released after a two-day meeting in China's eastern port city of Qingdao.

The meeting effectively marked the start of China's chairmanship this year of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and came at a time when the region, which accounts for nearly 60 percent of the world's gross domestic product, is fraught with maritime tensions, most recently between Beijing and Hanoi in the South China Sea.