Finance Ministers from Asean nations met in Hanoi this week to plan further steps toward economic integration.

In their meeting ahead of the 16th Asean Leaders Summit, they pledged to implement the proposed Asean Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) by May 2010, and the Asean Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA) by October.

The agreements are designed to facilitate the free flow of goods, services, labor and investment across the region. Six nations have already eliminated tariffs on 99.5% of tariff lines, while the ‘CLMV’ countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar & Vietnam) have reduced tariffs to around 0.5% on 98.86% of tariff lines, with a view to complete elimination by 2015.

If all goes well, these moves will bring the region closer to the dream of a fully-integrated Asean Economic Community.

Plans to integrate economies have been progressing smoothly in the past decade. Since 2000, Asean intra-trade has tripled, rising from US$166.8 to $458.1. Between 2006 and 2008, foreign direct investment (FDI) from outside Asean rose 8.6%, while FDI within the organization rose 42.6% in the same period.

article & source: Business Times (Malaysia)