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US wants APEC-wide free trade pact: report

(AFP) / 5 November 2006

TOKYO - The United States has sounded out its Asian and Pacific partners on the possibility of creating a regional free trade agreement as a ‘middle- and long-term’ objective, a press report said on Sunday.

The US administration would seek an agreement on its regional FTA proposal during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Hanoi on November 18-19, the newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported.

The 21-nation APEC was launched in 1989 under the initiative of Japan, Australia and other countries, with the US one of its key members.

The US State Department had approached the Japanese foreign and trade ministries in October and said Washington wanted to discuss the possibility of an APEC-wide FTA, the daily quoted Japanese government sources as saying.

The State Department said a multi-lateral FTA in the Asia-Pacific region ‘may not be easy, but (is) important as a middle- and long-term objective’, the daily reported.

The idea may clash with Japan’s proposal last April to discuss the idea of an East Asian ‘economic partnership agreement’  comprising 16 countries -- the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plus Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Economic ministers of the 16 countries held an informal meeting in August.

Washington informally expressed dissatisfaction with the East Asian FTA concept, as it did not want to see ‘a line drawn in the middle of the Pacific’, the Asahi quoted its government sources as saying.

ASEAN has been steadily reducing tariffs in the region as it moves towards a European-style single market by 2015.

China and South Korea have concluded FTAs with ASEAN, while Japan, Australia, New Zealand and India have been negotiating FTAs with the association.

These moves apparently have prompted the US to hasten its own idea of an Asia-Pacific-wide trade pact, while its free-trade talks with Asia under the World Trade Organization (WTO) have stalled, the daily said.

 
 
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