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Japan, ASEAN Leaders Agree to Negotiate Free Trade Area - 2002-11-05


Japan and Southeast Asian leaders have agreed to draft measures leading to negotiations on a free trade area. The accord was signed in Phnom Penh on the last of a three-day summit meeting of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Japan and ASEAN leaders agreed to draft by next year a framework aimed at ending customs duties between Southeast Asia and the world's second largest economy.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says the agreement enhances Japan's long-standing policies in the region. He says Japan will promote further exchanges with Asian nations in all areas.

The accord follows an ASEAN agreement with China to begin negotiations on a free trade agreement.

China says it is pursuing free trade agreements with many groups to meet the challenges of economic globalization. Japan, concerned about a flood of cheaper agricultural goods under a regional FTA, is placing priority on bilateral accords with certain nations.

The 10 Southeast Asian leaders were wrapping up three days of meetings that included summits with China, Japan, South Korea, India and South Africa.

They pledged to intensify cooperation against terrorism, following the bombings in Bali, Indonesia, and the Philippines. But they urged other governments go avoid issuing region-wide travel warnings that hurt the economies of countries that have not experienced terrorist attacks.

The ASEAN leaders were joined by China, Japan and South Korea in pressing North Korea to end any nuclear weapons program it has and called for the Korean peninsula to be free of all nuclear weapons.

And the leaders agreed with China to refrain from hostile actions in the South China Sea, despite their territorial disputes over the Spratly and other islands there.

The ASEAN leaders also signed agreements pledging further cooperation in tourism and the fight against drug and people trafficking, sea piracy, money laundering and other cross-border crimes.

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