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Japan to propose free-trade zone

The 16 nations in the proposal are the 10 members of ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, NZ and S Korea.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2006 11:52 IST

Japan plans to propose the formation of an Asian economic free-trade zone which could cover about half the global population and rival the EU and NAFTA markets, a trade ministry official said on Tuesday.

The 16 nations in the proposal are the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

The push comes as Japan's relations with its biggest trading partner China remain tense due to history and as it worries about securing bilateral free-trade pacts with Asian countries.

Japan will propose starting negotiations in 2008 for the conclusion of the pact in 2010, said Takeshi Fujimoto, who is in charge of promoting Japan's economic partnerships with other nations.

"The first reason for this is to accelerate East Asia's economic integration, which is already in the process of happening," he said.

Trade minister Toshihiro Nikai plans to propose the idea at a governmental economic council meeting on Friday, Fujimoto said.

The so-called East Asian Economic Partnership Agreement could form a market larger than the North American Free Trade Agreement or European Union, covering three billion people or about a half of the global population.

Combined gross domestic product would be $9.1 trillion, one quarter of the world's figure, according to 2004 data.

The top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Tuesday that Japan would propose the concept as it has been lagging behind China and South Korea in concluding free trade pacts in the region.

Fujimoto argued Japan was not necessarily lagging behind but noted "South Korea and China are active in drawing up strategies or setting up goals to form economic partnerships" with other countries in the region.

"Japan should not be late in this trend and needs to lead economic integration in this region," he said.