ASEAN and its six dialogue partners, namely Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India, the Republic of Korea (RoK) and China, are to launch a regional free trade agreement (FTA), ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan has said.

Pitsuwan made the announcement during the 13th Asia-Europe Business Forum (AEBF-13) which opened on November 4 in Vientiane .

He said the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is part of the grouping’s architecture of economic partnership.

Regarding the five FTAs that ASEAN has signed with the six countries (including a joint FTA with Australia and New Zealand ), he said the association is now putting the five together into one agreement that will be launched later this month in Phnom Penh .

ASEAN has a combined GDP of 2.4 trillion USD, which is larger than that of India alone, of Australia and New Zealand combined, and of the RoK. He said ASEAN still needed support from its dialogue partners, especially as it is pledged to become a single community by 2015.

He also mentioned the possibility of an ASEAN-EU free trade agreement.

Eventually, this will be good for both sides, especially when EU is now the grouping’s third largest trading partner with two-way trade between the 27 EU countries and 10 ASEAN countries grew by 6 percent in 2011, amounting to about 240 billion USD, added Pitsuwan.

After two working days, the AEBF-13 successfully wrapped up on November 5.-VNA