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Step Forward for Australia and ASEAN

Step Forward for Australia and ASEAN

We welcome the statement from ASEAN Economic Ministers supporting an ASEAN/Australia/New Zealand Free Trade Area as a step forward for Australia-ASEAN economic relations.

We are also appreciative of the decision to support the possibility of a summit between ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand later this year.

ASEAN’s decision to look at ways to further deepen our economic partnership, including through examining a free trade agreement, reflects Australia’s already close engagement with ASEAN. It builds on a wide and deep network of economic, commercial and financial relations between Australia and ASEAN.

This welcome step forward by the ASEAN Economic Ministers reflects Australia’s successful and broad engagement with the countries of our region.

A trade agreement would complement the two Free Trade Agreements Australia has recently negotiated with ASEAN members. The FTA with Singapore has now entered into force and one with Thailand – Thailand’s first with a developed economy – will come into force next year.

Forward-looking thinking is appropriate this year, the thirtieth year of Australia’s relations with ASEAN. Our long-standing relationship already embraces security dialogues with four ASEAN countries, counter-terrorism cooperation and signed MOUs with five members, growing people-to-people links through schools and universities, non-government organisations, and individuals. Australia and ASEAN are also strong partners in development cooperation, with an estimated total of $395 million pa going to ASEAN.

Australia was pleased to welcome the ASEAN Secretary-General, Ong Keng Yong, for a visit last week to mark the anniversary of relations.

Through the AFTA-CER Closer Economic Partnership (CEP), Australia is working with ASEAN members to strengthen regional links, promote growth and development and pursue common trade goals. Good progress has been made in the first year of the Closer Economic Partnership and we are firmly on-track to meet our goal of doubling trade and investment with ASEAN by 2010.

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