Kuala Lumpur, Oct 16 (KYODO) The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has prepared a framework of general principles to steer the establishment of an Asia-Pacific free trade agreement.

The “ASEAN Framework for a Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership” was discussed by ASEAN trade ministers at a one-day informal meeting in Kuala Lumpur yesterday for adoption by leaders of the 10-member group at their summit meeting in Bali next month. The framework sets out “principles under which ASEAN will enhance engagement with FTA partners” with the aim of “establishing a comprehensive economic partnership,” Kyodo News agency reported.

ASEAN has FTAs with Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. The latest move reflects a deep concern among some member countries that ASEAN could be sidelined by the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership that has attracted attention even as it is being negotiated, especially if Japan decides to come on board, ASEAN official sources said. As a result, ASEAN would like to hasten creation of a regional FTA encompassing the ASEAN members and its FTA partners from outside the region, with ASEAN playing a central role in the initiative.

Nine countries involved in negotiations for the TPP are Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, United States and four ASEAN members — Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. Japan is considering joining the TPP negotiations. “The purpose (of the framework) is to achieve a comprehensive and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement,” ASEAN’s draft says.

“This agreement shall also involve a broader and deeper engagement with ASEAN’s FTA partners and address new and emerging issues.” The general principles in the framework include differential treatment for ASEAN’s less developed members such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

Other principles include ensuring the agreements are transparent and made available to the public, provide for economic and technical cooperation, contain measures to facilitate trade and investment and should contribute to ASEAN’s own plan for regional economic integration and economic development. (KYODO)