Tuesday, 2 June 2009

ASEAN leaders sign free trade pact at the end of Sokor Summit


MANILA (PNA) –- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Tuesday signed a free trade agreement in South Korea which they hope will nearly double two-way trade to USD 150 billion by 2015.

After the signing, the President flies to Russia for the St. Petersburg Economic Forum.

Reports reaching Malacanang said the trade ministers from South Korea and ASEAN signed the pact to liberalise investments on the final day of a summit by their leaders on the southern island of Jeju.

The investment accord is the final plank of a comprehensive free trade agreement that also covers trade in goods and services. Pacts opening up trade in goods and services are already in force, reports said.

"We expressed our expectations that the trade volume between ASEAN and the ROK will increase to USD 150 billion by 2015 through the ASEAN-ROK FTA and other complementary trade arrangements," the leaders said in a joint statement.

Two-way trade doubled to USD .2 billion in 2008 from USD .4 billion in 2004, reports said.

The completion of the free trade pact comes amid a push by South Korea to further increase its presence and influence in ASEAN, a 10-nation bloc with a combined population of more than half a billion people.

Analysts said China and Japan are already ahead in engaging ASEAN, which has a combined gross domestic product of around USD .3 trillion.

South Korea's finance ministry said the country sees ASEAN "as an export market which can offset sluggish markets in developed countries," especially after the global financial crisis.

Apart from exports, its companies are also expected to benefit since infrastructure spending is a major part of government stimulus packages in Southeast Asia, ASEAN officials have said.

South Korea can also secure better access to ASEAN's massive wealth in natural resources including timber, rubber and oil and gas.

Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu told AFP in an interview on Monday that her country exports to billion worth of natural gas to South Korea annually.

South Korea also buys food and fish products as well as footwear, textile and paper and pulp from Indonesia.

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