By Petchanet Pratruangkrai, The Nation/Asia News Network
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will this November launch free-trade negotiations with six major trading partners to promote regional growth amid the slowdown of Western economies.
The formal announcement is expected to be made at the ASEAN Leaders Summit in Cambodia. The negotiations are expected to be wrapped up by 2015, when the ASEAN Economic Community is scheduled to be fully implemented.
Srirat Rastapana, director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department, said last week that ASEAN countries and the private sector envision the ASEAN+6 pact as paving the way for stimulating economic growth and helping to balance economic expansion between Eastern and Western countries.
ASEAN+6 will offset the power |of the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which is gathering nine trade members in Asia-Pacific. The group will also be an important stepping stone to achieving the Free-Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific before 2020.
ASEAN groups 10 countries in Southeast Asia. The six partner countries are China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
The ASEAN+6 pact will be comprehensive, liberalizing trade in goods, services and investment.
It will divide the member countries into three groups according to their stage of development. Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam are categorized as least developed countries. They will get more privileges for reduced tariffs from other trading partners.
Singapore, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Malaysia and Brunei are the highly developed countries, which should proceed in eliminating tariffs for other members.
China, India, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines are the medium developing countries. They will negotiate for clearer conditions for opening markets for other nations in a bid to ensure a level playing field.
ASEAN has already held individual talks with each of the six partners. Thailand can continue discussing with the six partners, as the draft negotiations framework has already been ratified by parliament under Article 190 of the constitution.
The department will also accelerate concluding comprehensive free-trade agreements this year with three other countries — Peru, Chile and India.