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Southeast Asian Nations Sign Financial Services Accord - 2002-04-08


Ten Southeast Asian nations sign an accord to open up financial services, and the Japanese government says that its outlook for Asia's largest economy has improved slightly.

Finance ministers from Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and seven other Southeast Asian countries signed an agreement Saturday to free up trade and investment in financial services. All are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean.

ASEAN officials say the accord aims to strengthen regional financial ties and is a step towards the ultimate goal of regional economic integration.

However, the officials note that further negotiations are needed to cement economic cooperation. ASEAN members say they want to rely more on themselves and less on the United States, currently their largest export market.

Japan appears to be showing some signs of economic recovery after months of recession. In the government's March economic report, Tokyo upgraded its general assessment for the first time in nearly two years. It notes that the unemployment rate has recently dropped back from a record high.

Japan's State Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy, Heizo Takenaka, says that the country's economy is experiencing a modest recovery. He told reporters there are several economic indicators showing improvement. However, he adds economic conditions are still hard and consumer spending remains weak.

In South Korea, the nation's latest producer price index rose. The Central Bank of Korea says wholesale prices increased point six percent in March -- the third monthly gain in a row. The increase is due to rising prices for oil and raw materials. The report came a day after the Bank of Korea left interest rates unchanged for a seventh straight month.