Japan to propose 16-nation Asian free trade zone at ASEAN meeting

TOKYO - Japan’s trade minister will propose forming a 16-nation East Asian free trade zone that covers half the world’s population and a quarter of its gross domestic product at an upcoming regional forum, an official said on Tuesday.

By (AP)

Published: Tue 1 Aug 2006, 10:24 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 2:01 PM

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshihiro Nikai will call for a pan-Asian FTA - involving Australia, China, Korea, India, Japan and New Zealand, along with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - at an ASEAN ministerial gathering in Kuala Lumpur later this month, according to ministry official Hideyasu Tamura.

The proposed free trade area has a combined population of 3.1 billion people and combined gross domestic product of almost US$10 trillion, or almost half of the world’s population and a quarter of its GDP.

That’s more people than the “pean Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement nations combined, and almost matches the United States’ GDP of US$12.5 trillion.

The figures are based on U.N. and World Bank statistics for 2005. GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced within a country.

Japanese officials have said they hope the initiative will help stimulate trade, as well as enhance Japan’s presence in the region.

Tokyo hopes to dilute the influence of China, which earlier suggested a more limited trade zone excluding India, Australia and New Zealand.

“The participation of democracies like India and Australia would enable the region to forge more open economic partnerships,” Tamura said.

Nikai, who unveiled the proposal in Japan in April, has also said Japan wants to create a regional economic policy think tank modeled on the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development to coordinate regional policy and promote economic integration.

Comprised mainly of industrialized nations, the 30-nation OECD strives to help governments achieve sustainable economic growth and publishes detailed economic statistics. Japan and South Korea currently are the only East Asian members.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Asian trade ministers are scheduled to hold talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, later this month.

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