Asean will consider the groundwork of a regional free-trade agreement with six main trading partners.

The targeted partners are South Korea, China and Japan, which will come under an Asean+3 FTA, and additionally India, New Zealand and Australia, to come under Asean+6.

Commerce Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said yesterday that in their recent meeting, Asean economic ministers agreed in principle to move towards more open trade and investment through FTAs, as well as expansion of services.

They will focus on forming FTAs not only with these six priority trading partners but also other countries.

The proposal will be put before Asean leaders at their summit to be held in Indonesia from November 17-19.

Kittiratt said the economic ministers also agreed on the need to reduce the development gap among Asean countries so all could benefit under the Asean Economic Community.

He also met with Mustapa Mohamed, Malaysia’s minister for trade and industry, to exchange views on broadening trade and investment between the two nations. Mustapa proposed that Thailand invest more in his country, particularly in its special economic zones.

For his part, Kittiratt proposed that Malaysia create a training exchange programme between businesspeople of both sides to help them learn more about each other’s market culture.

The Department of Trade Negotiation also reported that the rising number of FTAs would affect Asean. If Asean goes ahead with regional seamless trade taking measures to shield itself from other FTAs, the region could lose out.

For instance, the Trans-Pacific Strategic Partnership has nine members: Chile, Peru, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. In addition, three more countries, Japan, Canada and the Philippines, are applying to join the bloc.

“Because of the growing number of free-trade talks, Asean should have a certain direction for market liberalisation to ensure regional benefit,” Kittiratt said. –THE NATION