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Australia to join East Asia economic bloc

india Updated: Jan 16, 2007 09:47 IST
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Australia would join a free trade zone of 16 Asian and Pacific nations under a plan for a landmark East Asia economic bloc including India.

Speaking at the East Asia Summit in The Philippines on Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said the Japanese idea of an East Asia free trade bloc, which would rival the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement, was discussed at the meeting and that Australia "supports the feasibility study being carried out".

The free trade area - stretching from Japan to China, India, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand - would cover almost half of the world's population, three billion people, with an economic output of nine trillion dollars.

In the past, China has opposed Australia, India and New Zealand's entry into a regional free trade bloc, preferring to champion the ASEAN Plus three bloc of Southeast Asian nations plus China, Japan and South Korea.

"There was a mixture of views," the prime minister was quoted as saying by The Australian about the summit debate over the Japanese initiative.

We have reached the situation where we have almost a spaghetti-bowl of free trade proposals. There's APEC, ASEAN Plus Three, there's EAS (East Asia Summit) and in the meantime, most importantly, we are busily negotiating free trade agreements with our trading partners, he said.

(But) I got the sense that the East Asia Summit has well and truly arrived. It's a done deal that we are going to have an East Asia Summit. People on Tuesday were talking about what it should do and were no longer marvelling that it was happening" he said.