2010/08/25

Despite challenges, S.E. Asia grows with China: ASEAN

DANANG, August 25, 2010 (AFP) - Southeast Asian economies will grow along with China despite challenges faced by some countries in adjusting to a new ASEAN-China free trade deal, the head of the regional bloc said Wednesday.

"Some ASEAN countries have more problems than others in adjusting to the free trade agreement," Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), told a news conference at the close of an annual meeting of the bloc's trade and commerce ministers.

But he said all 10 members of ASEAN are committed to the agreement and their attitude is: "When China grows, ASEAN grows with it."

The ASEAN-China Free Trade Area, which took effect earlier this year, is the world's biggest by population, with a market of 1.7 billion consumers.

Some Indonesian industry groups complained that they would not be able to compete with cheap Chinese imports and called for a delay in the elimination of protective tariffs.

Malaysian businesses made a similar call but government officials have said there will be no backtracking on the free trade deal.

Surin said the agreement allows for "flexibility" and discussions are continuing on how to help various sectors to adjust.

China and six founding ASEAN states -- Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand -- eliminated barriers to investment and trade on 90 percent of products on January 1.

Less developed ASEAN members, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, have until 2015 to follow.