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Asian Leaders Look to Speed Up Economic Ties - 2004-07-30


A meeting of seven Asian nations got underway in Bangkok in Friday with the aim of speeding up economic cooperation and pressing ahead with plans for a free trade agreement.

Leaders from seven South- and Southeast Asian countries are meeting in Bangkok, hoping to add momentum to the slow progress on economic cooperation in recent years.

Expanding trade and investment as well as cooperation in science and technology, energy, fisheries, communications, transport and tourism are all on the agenda.

So far, the group's combined trade totals just seven-point-three billion dollars. That's just four per cent of their total trade.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, said a key goal of the summit in Bangkok will be to speed up economic cooperation.

Sihasak Phuangketkeow said, "We believe this meeting is important because momentum is increasing, but we need the political will from the leaders to move things forward."

The group's foreign ministers signed on earlier this year to plans for a free trade zone. Talks will now focus on having the pact fully in place by 2017.

Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh is attending the summit, making his first official foreign visit since he took office in May. Burma's Prime Minister, Khin Nyunt, is also taking part in the meeting and Thailand is expected to press him for the release from house arrest of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Thai foreign ministry spokesman, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, said regional concerns over terrorism were also high on the agenda.

Sihasak Phuangketkeow said, "We're also talking about new directions in combating terrorism because that has a tremendous impact on the economic stability of the region."

The regional forum consists of Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The group was founded in 1997, but so far progress to expand trade and open up markets has been slow. Leaders are now hoping to speed up the process.

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