Japan proposes 16-nation Asian trade bloc: officials

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 17 (AFP) – Japanese officials on Thursday proposed a sprawling 16-nation free-trade grouping with China, South Korea, Australia, India, New Zealand and the 10-nation Southeast Asian bloc, officials said.

The 16 last year formed the East Asia Summit — seen as a precursor of a giant free-trade community embracing half the world’s population.

“Minister (Toshihiro) Nikai will certainly speak out about that at the lunch of the 16 ministers next week,” Ramon Vicente Kabigting, a director at the Philippines’ department of trade and industry told reporters.

Kabigting said that economic officials from each of the countries meeting here this week would have to brief their ministers who are holding their annual dialogue in the Malaysian capital next week.

“When the (ASEAN) ministers meet among themselves before they meet their dialogue partners, they will have some rough dimensions of their response,” he said.

This is the first time Japan has raised the proposal to ASEAN and its dialogue partners China, Japan and South Korea — known as ASEAN Plus 3 — who gathered here Thursday.

An ASEAN official indicated there was a cautious response to the ambitious idea, saying it was met with silence