ASEAN leaders to speed up economic integration

Manila (Antara News) - Southeast Asian leaders are to advance to 2015 the target date for integrating the region's vast economies into a single European Union-style market, a draft declaration obtained by AFP showed.

The declaration is expected to be signed by Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders when they meet for an annual summit next month in the central Philippine resort island of Mactan.

ASEAN countries -- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- plan to create a single community hinged on a "closely integrated, dynamic and vibrant regional economy."

Leaders will reaffirm a "strong determination to undertake concrete measures for the acceleration of the implementation of all programme areas, measures and principles" in the envisioned ASEAN market.

They will also declare "a strong commitment towards accelerating the achievement of an ASEAN Community to 2015," the draft said.

ASEAN, a market of 500 million people, aims to abolish tariffs by 2015 under a regional free-trade agreement.

ASEAN is also negotiating separately for free-trade agreements (FTAs) with China, Japan and South Korea, hoping this will become a catalyst for a wider East Asian free trade zone, potentially the biggest in the world.

Some ASEAN countries have signed FTAs with key trading partners or are in the process of negotiating such deals.

Analysts and officials have said there was a need to speed up integration if ASEAN was to remain relevant in the wake of rapid economic developments around the world.

The draft said leaders will push for a "stronger, more united and cohesive ASEAN" that would be more equipped to deal with "evolving regional architecture and economic climate."

It would also push for an expansion of engagements with dialogue partners, believing that this would help in efforts to achieve the 2015 goal. (*)
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