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ASEAN Agrees to Speed Up Economic Integration by Five Years

Southeast Asian Nations have agreed to form an economic union by 2015 - five years ahead of plan. ASEAN officials say growing competition for investment by China and India has spurred their decision.

Trade ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations - or ASEAN - made the decision to accelerate regional economic integration at a meeting in the Malaysia capital, Kuala Lumpur, Tuesday.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi warned that unless ASEAN acted more quickly, it risked losing its position as a major investment destination.

"As the ASEAN community becomes increasingly integrated into the global economy, we need to monitor developments in other regional groupings and initiatives by ASEAN's major trading partners entering into various forms of trading arrangements with others," he said.

Foreign direct investment in ASEAN last year hit a record of $38 billion - but that is still far behind China.

ASEAN secretary general, Ong Keng Yong, says the group now aims to create a single economic market by 2015 instead of 2020 - to better compete with China and India.

ASEAN began liberalizing trade in 1993 but persistent protectionist policies have inhibited progress.

ASEAN is comprised of Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.