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Economy, Trade Dominate Talks Between ASEAN, China, India

Economic issues and trade took the front seat in bilateral talks between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China and India. The 10-nation bloc is expanding business and trade with its two giant neighbors Douglas Bakshian reports from the ASEAN summit in Cebu.

Two-way trade between China and ASEAN reached $160 billion in 2006, an increase of more than 23 percent from the previous year.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, credited the Agreement on Trade in Goods in the China-ASEAN free-trade area, implemented in 2005, for much of the growth. He said tariffs on more than 7,000 products from both sides were lowered.

ASEAN and China also signed a new deal to open access to each other's markets by liberalizing services in tourism, telecoms, energy and computers. The Chinese leader said the sides should speed up talks on an investment agreement ,as well, to continue the growth.

The Chinese leader says his nation welcomes more ASEAN businesses to China, and is encouraging Chinese companies to invest in ASEAN nations. He described relations between the sides as a win-win situation.

India, the other economic giant in Asia, is also stepping up its trade with ASEAN. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says he hopes bilateral trade will surpass a target of $30 billion this year. That trade hit $23 billion in 2005, way up from 1990 when it was about $2 billion.

Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath says India hopes to complete a free-trade agreement with ASEAN by July of this year, which would accelerate growth. He says greater engagement in the economic area is vital for India and ASEAN.

"The mass of economic activity has shifted and is gradually shifting to East Asia, as we see both in terms of competitiveness, both in terms of growth in the manufacturing sector," said Nath. "So it is important that East Asian countries engage with each other in not only greater intensity, but in more creative ways."

India also said it wants to begin talks with ASEAN on an open skies policy that would clear the way for increased air traffic.

ASEAN is composed of 10 countries of widely varying levels of development and wealth. The group is working to better integrate economically, so that it can better compete with larger economic powers and profit from globalization, rather than be left behind by it.