East Asia Summit explores free trade area prospects

P.S. Suryanarayana

SINGAPORE: The East Asia Summit (EAS), a “leaders-driven forum” with India, as also China and Japan in its fold, “is studying the feasibility of a free trade area among its 16 countries.”

This was indicated by an official spokesman for the Summit after the Foreign Ministers of the member-countries met in Singapore on Tuesday under the auspices of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). India was represented by Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma. The EAS, which did not discuss the possibility of inviting the United States to join the forum, zeroed in on ways to enhance its “internal consolidation,” the spokesman said.

However, the economic linkages between the U.S. and East Asia had already ensured that Washington “is very much a part of this region.”

Neither the EAS Ministers nor the ASEAN-Plus-Three forum, which too met here on Tuesday, addressed the new Australian proposal of forming a wider “Asia Pacific Community” or even the other idea of a pan-Asian grouping, the spokesman said.

The ASEAN-Plus-Three covers China, Japan, and South Korea, besides all the 10 members of the Southeast Asian grouping.

The ASEAN-Plus-Three Foreign Ministers also agreed to set up a “Cooperation Fund” for these 13 countries, with a seed amount of $3 million. The Fund would help implement “concrete” economic projects of value to at least two or more countries.

An “Economic Research Institute of ASEAN and East Asia” had now started functioning “to pave the way for future development.”

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