Southeast Asia & Pacific Free-Trade Bloc Being Considered

First there was the European Free-Trade Assn. The MERCOSUR. Then NAFTA. And now a 12-nation southeast Asia/Pacific free-trade bloc may be in the making. Australia, New Zealand, and the 10-member Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have set up a task force to investigate the feasibility of forming a free-trade zone. Former Philippines Prime Minister Cesar Virata will head the group, which is to complete its report in time for the next ASEAN economic ministers' meeting in October 2000, in Thailand. ASEAN includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Meanwhile, Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and his New Zealand counterpart, Jenny Shipley, have inked an agreement on bilateral free-trade negotiations.

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