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ASEAN, EU Agree to Start Free Trade Talks

Southeast Asian nations and the European Union have agreed to start free trade talks, and a leading U.S. semiconductor maker says it will invest $1 billion in the Philippines. Claudia Blume at VOA's Asia News Center has more on these and other business stories from the region.

The Association of Southeast Asian nations and the European Union say they are going to begin free trade negotiations. A pact between these two regional blocs would affect more than one billion people.

Trade between ASEAN and the EU was more than $130 billion in 2005.

The negotiations will take place despite differences over Burma, which is a member of ASEAN. The country is subject to EU sanctions because of its poor human rights record.

U.S.-based Texas Instruments says it will build a $1 billion semiconductor test and assembly plant in the Philippines. The factory will be built at the Clark economic zone north of Manila, a former U.S. air base. Production is scheduled to start in the second half of next year.

Investment bank CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets has launched Asia's first dedicated water and waste management investment fund.

Andrew Pidden, CLSA's chief investment officer in Singapore, says the new fund, to be known as the Clean Water fund, is in addition to the company's existing Clean Resources Asia fund.

Pidden says there is huge growth in Asian water infrastructure development, pollution reduction and waste management. He says the private sector is increasingly getting involved in this area.

"We believe that the issues of resource deprivation, pollution waste, energy inefficiency and, increasingly, climate change, are key drivers across all areas of the global economy," said Pidden. "And therefore we extract a universe of companies across Asia that are responding to all of these different drivers with varying degrees of intensity and that's what we monitor and that's what we invest in."

China has made its largest oil find in more than three decades. The strike came in the Jidong Nanpu oil field in Bohai Bay, off China's northeastern coast. The China National Petroleum Corporation says the field has proven reserves of more than 400 million tons of oil.

While China has grown to be the world's second-biggest oil consumer, its domestic oil output has stagnated, and locating new reserves is crucial for its soaring economy. Last year, the country imported almost half of its oil.

And Indian drug maker Wockhardt has bought the French pharmaceutical group Negma Laboratories for $265 million. The buyout makes Wockhardt the largest Indian pharmaceuticals company in Europe, with more than 1,500 employees.