HANOI, March 8 (Xinhua) — ASEAN economic ministers signed two protocols and adopted a number of important initiatives at the 19th ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) Retreat in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi on Friday for the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015.

The protocols are to amend ASEAN Economic Agreements Related to Trade in Goods and the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement.

Participants specified orientations for economic cooperation in 2013 to realize the goal of building the AEC by 2015, and discussed initiatives on improving ASEAN competitiveness and connectivity with partners by building a business network and mechanisms to facilitate small and medium-sized enterprises.

They also considered the roadmap for negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which manifests ASEAN’ s central and leading role in establishing a regional economic structure.

Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade, Nguyen Cam Tu, said the RCEP negotiations are expected to start this year and conclude by 2016, creating the world’s largest free trade area that encompasses 50 percent of the global population and 30 percent of the global gross domestic product.

At the East Asia Summit in late November 2012, regional leaders formally launched negotiations on RCEP which comprises all 10 ASEAN members and the six other countries with which the regional bloc has free trade agreements — China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.