ADB official calls for Asia-wide FTA, but says common market far off

MANILA, Oct 2, 2006 (AFP) – Major obstacles block Asia’s prospects of becoming a common market, but a region-wide free-trade area is a realistic goal, an Asian Development Bank official said Monday. The Philippines-based lender said 183 free trade agreements have either been signed or are being proposed or negotiated across Asia, where the share of intra-regional trade has risen to about 55 percent last year from some 40 percent in the early 1990s.

“Given the stalled Doha round of the World Trade Organization talks, it is vital for all Asian countries to continue their efforts to pursue further market opening and structural reforms,” said Masahiro Kawai, head of the ADB’s regional economic integration office.

He said the ultimate goal should be “consolidating the (various inter-Asian) FTAs (free trade agreements) into a single Asia-wide, best practices FTA,” ensuring the expansion of free trade within the region.

Kawai said the political will is there, with Asia’s leaders having expressed support toward a vision of an integrated Asian economy.

Closing the development gap, however, between the relatively developed and the less-developed countries is very important, and regional coopera