The second annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations Business and Investment Summit has opened in the Lao capital, aiming to make trade between the 10-member nations flow smoothly and attract more direct foreign investment into the region.

The ASEAN Business and Investment Summit, known as ASEAN BIS, opened Saturday here with the goal of fostering closer integration between ASEAN markets and other trading partners.

The business leaders are meeting in Vientiane ahead of the 10th ASEAN summit Monday in which government leaders are planning a European Union-style economic free trade area by 2010, which will include China and cover nearly two billion people.

But Chairman of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council and organizer of this year's summit, Oudet Souvannavong, says there is tremendous potential for intra-ASEAN trade, which has gone largely untapped.

To make trade between the 10-member nations easier, this year's summit will launch the ASEAN Pioneer Project Scheme, or APPS, a vehicle to expedite project approvals and help small and medium regional companies get established.

"The aim of the process we want to put is to make business in ASEAN easier, not only for the ASEAN companies, but also for the FDI, foreign direct investment," explained Mr. Souvannavong. "I know that there are a lot of disparities in the conduct of different countries."

Business leaders have long complained of the bureaucracy and corruption that companies face when trying to do business within the ASEAN region. Mr. Souvannavong says one of the aims of this summit is to change this perception with government help.

"Some of this will not suffice if it's not implemented on the spot," he said. "So the APPS is a kind of a tool for implementation. And when we see some impediments, those impediments have to be reported quickly to the head of states and after that the change in the policy has to come up very quickly and this is one point only of the APPS."

More than 200 top business leaders from the region and major ASEAN trading partner countries China, Japan, South Korea, India, and the United States are attending the two-day meeting.