Japan's trade minister, Toshihiro Nikai, on April 4, proposed talks on a region-wide free trade pact in East Asia to group 16 nations in an economic community. The minister of economy, trade and industry said he would propose the talks start in 2008 and involve the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
"I want to advocate the idea of an economic partnership linking comprehensive FTAs (free trade agreements) in the whole of East Asia," Nikai told a news conference. The minister said he would put forward the proposal on April 7 at a meeting of the government's policy-setting Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy headed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Japan and the 15 other economies comprise the East Asian Summit, which was launched last December in Kuala Lumpur. Japan has been seeking to establish separate FTAs with the ASEAN, China, Australia and other countries in the region.
The envisioned free trade zone, also joined by Hong Kong and Taiwan, could match the EU and the North American Free Trade Agreement in terms of economic scale and effects, with a population of three billion and gross domestic product of about nine trillion dollars.
Nikai also said Japan would propose the establishment of a policy coordinating mechanism in East Asia to be modeled after the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). As a first step, Japan plans to set up a research center with the ASEAN secretariat for policy analysis and proposals early next year, Nikai said.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006