Singapore: South-East Asian trade ministers are meeting here this week to find ways to improve linkages and advance talks with some of their biggest economic partners as they seek to form a European Union (EU)-styled community.
In the spotlight: Commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath. Photograph: Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will hold discussions with their counterparts from India, Japan, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand starting Wednesday. They met with business leaders on Tuesday.
South-East Asian nations last year agreed to open up their markets further in a bid to create an economic zone modelled after the EU, without a common currency, by 2015. The group has said that it needs to improve its competitiveness as China and India, the world’s two fastest growing major economies, attract an increasing chunk of global investment.
“To gain our share of investments and jobs, Asean needs to become a well-integrated community,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday. “We have to continue strengthening our economic foundations, reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers and simplifying business regulations.”
The region’s ministers will attempt to conclude free trade talks with India’s commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath this week, said former Asean secretary general Ong Keng Yong. An accord between India, the world’s second most populous country, and Asean has been delayed repeatedly because of disagreement over tariff cuts. The modalities for tariff reductions and eliminations on trade in goods in the Asean-India agreement have been finalized, the ministers said in a statement on Tuesday.
Earlier, on Monday, Asean economic ministers signed agreements allowing their nations’ accountants, dentists and doctors to work in each other’s countries.
The ministers signed the mutual recognition arrangements on the eve of their annual gathering, a statement from the Singapore hosts said.
(AFP contributed to this story.)