ASEAN FTA Seen Leading to Pan-Asia Free Trade

Article excerpt

SINGAPORE, June 26 (Reuters) Creating a China-ASEAN free trade area will prod Japan and South Korea to abandon their protectionist farm policies, ushering in an East Asian single market within 15 years, a top Chinese academic said.

The confident comments underscore Beijings determination to force the pace of Asian integration, which it sees as a force for regional peace and stability, despite the distraction of economic problems at home.

In a paper prepared for a forum on ties between China and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations, researcher Zhang Xiaoji said Japan and South Korea would not join the planned China-ASEAN free trade area (FTA) within the foreseeable future as it would require a wrenching shift in farm policies.

China and ASEAN have agreed in principle to create by 2010 a unified market of 1.8 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of $2 trillion.

Such a market would not only expand intra-regional trade and investment but also attract extensive investment from Japan, South Korea and beyond, said Zhang, who is a director-general of the Development Research Centre of the State Council in Beijing.

That would galvanize Tokyo and Seoul into dismantling the tariffs and subsidies they use to shield their farmers. …