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Asean ministers to sign India trade deal

SINGAPORE - Asean is set this week to finalise a free-trade agreement with India and hold talks with Australia and New Zealand, signalling the importance of regional pacts amid fading hopes for a global trading regime.

Economic ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, meeting in Singapore today through Friday, are expected to put the final touches on an Asean-India trade in goods pact agreed on by senior officials earlier this month.

The deal covering billions of dollars is expected to be signed during the Asean-India Summit in December, officials have said.

Asean economic ministers will also hold talks with their counterparts from Australia and New Zealand in an effort to have a trade agreement ready for signing by December, a Southeast Asian diplomatic source said.

Forging the trade links with India and the two Pacific nations will complete the bloc's ties with all its key Asia-Pacific trading partners, and could be a catalyst for a regionwide free-trade zone, officials said.

The overriding focus of this week's meeting will be on efforts to achieve a single market and manufacturing base by 2015 to raise Asean's profile in the face of competition from China and India.

Regional FTAs are gaining fresh momentum after the latest attempt to end a seven-year deadlock in the so-called Doha Round of global trade talks broke down in July because of a dispute between India and the United States over agricultural tariffs.

But while Asia is forging ahead with trade linkages, the region has a major task in integrating its financial markets, which are now larger, deeper and more sophisticated than they were a decade ago, it said.

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