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Ministers recommend trade negotiations

Ministers recommend trade negotiations |

Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton today welcomed the decision of ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand ministers to recommend the launch of negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement.

Mr Sutton, attending the ASEAN meeting in Jakarta, said that moves towards a trade deal were a welcome development in New Zealand's relations with ASEAN.

Today's recommendation builds on the interest expressed by ASEAN Economic Ministers in April, and endorsed by ASEAN Foreign Ministers in July, to launch negotiations with Australia and New Zealand this year.

"It is encouraging that as ASEAN is actively extending its interaction with its partners in the north, it also recognises a common interest in expanding linkages with its southern partners, Australia and New Zealand".

Mr Sutton said the ASEAN region was a significant economic partner for New Zealand.

"ASEAN has a combined population of over 500 million people and an estimated GDP of over US$700 billion. In 2003, ASEAN collectively ranked as New Zealand's fifth largest export destination (counting the EU as a single destination). Merchandise exports totalled $2.2 billion, eight percent of our total exports, with five ASEAN countries among our top 20 markets. Additionally New Zealand's services exports to ASEAN exceed $400 million and ASEAN is the destination for more than six percent of New Zealand's offshore direct investment."

Mr Sutton said the move towards an FTA followed four years of economic and technical cooperation under the AFTA-CER Closer Economic Partnership. At the time the CEP was agreed in 2000, it was estimated the collective gains from a region-wide FTA could approach $50 billion. The ongoing programme of capacity building activities under the CEP is intended to ensure that all ten ASEAN countries will be able to participate in, and benefit from, the opportunities created by an FTA.

"An FTA between ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand is expected to promote growth and development and increase living standards throughout the region. It will build on New Zealand's existing trade and investment linkages with ASEAN, including our bilateral agreement with Singapore and our negotiations with Thailand, and help ensure that we remain connected with the emerging economic architecture in the region."

Mr Sutton said the Government would be initiating a process of consultation with New Zealand industry and other stakeholders to help determine New Zealand's approach to the negotiation of an ASEAN - Australia/New Zealand FTA.

ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand Leaders will consider the recommendation of Ministers at their summit in Vientiane, Laos on 30 November. Should Leaders agree, it is expected that negotiations would commence in early 2005.

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