ASEAN-China trade deal on track -Indonesia

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SINGAPORE, Nov 18 (Reuters) The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is on track to complete its free trade agreement with China in 2010 but discussions with India are on hold, Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu said on Sunday.

She said talks between ASEAN and Chinese officials, which started in 2005, have progressed well in the area of traded goods and services and the two sides were now discussing investments.

But for India, ''we had to postpone negotiations for the time being because we haven't been able to reach agreement on the coverage of products,'' she told Reuters in an interview.

Indian and ASEAN had previously said they hoped to reach an agreement by 2008.

ASEAN, which comprises Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, has been working to transform itself from a loose political association into an economic grouping.

Besides the talks with China and India, ASEAN has also initiated talks with Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand in a bid to boost trade with between the region and Asia's larger or more developed economies.

Pangestu said the free trade agreement with South Korea is also on track to take effect from 2009, when the former grants greater access to a wide range of goods from southeast Asia. ASEAN on its part will open its markets to the north Asian country by 2012.

She added that Indonesia, the region's largest economy, preferred to discuss trade pacts on a regional basis, when asked about moves by countries such as Singapore to discuss trade deals on a bilateral basis.

INTERMEDIATE TARGETS ''The bigger the agreement, the bigger the gains ... Our focus, at least from an Indonesian perspective, is preferring regional rather than bilateral agreements,'' she said.

Pangestu also said ASEAN's blueprint to form an economic community by 2015, which will be formally unveiled this week, will contain ''clear intermediate targets'' for member states to meet.

The Asian Development Bank earlier on Sunday suggested ASEAN sets short-term goals and achieve them on schedule to convince sceptical investors that they can integrate their economies by 2015. (To read the story, click).

The short-term targets outlined in the ASEAN blueprint will include a commitment to open up 12 priority sectors by 2010, such as air travel, agriculture and agro-based products, electronics and automobiles.

ASEAN leaders are meeting in Singapore this week to sign the blueprint for an ASEAN Economic Community that, when it takes effect in 2015, will create a market with free movement of goods, services, investment and, to a limited extent, manpower. Indonesia's growth on track.

Earlier, Pangestu told reporters Indonesia was sticking to its 6.8 percent growth target for 2008 despite weakness in the U.S.

economy and higher oil prices that might crimp growth in its Asian neighbours.

She said the Indonesian government will increase spending on infrastructure projects and would diversify the economy to offset possible weakness in exports.

REUTERS SLD KN1656

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