Asian Nations to Form World’s Largest Free Trade Zone

The East Asia Summit generated an agreement, including cutting tariffs on $100 billion of goods, aimed at strengthening trade ties in the region to compete with U.S. and EU trade blocs. The newly formed open market would include nearly 2 billion people, and incorporate the countries of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand according to Bloomberg News.

At this stage, the pact does not include four poorer south Asian countries, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, which have until 2015 to comply with the agreement. Representatives from China, Japan and South Korea assured poorer member countries that their economic interests would not be overshadowed.

Member nations also agreed to hold biannual economic summits to further foster the region’s rapidly developing economic heft.

The expanded summit represents a victory for Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, who first proposed including more Asian nations a decade ago. Under pressure from the United States, Japan and South Korea declined the invitation. But the 1997 Asian financial crisis renewed the interest in strengthening the region’s economic ties.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuanketkeow said the agreement stresses cooperation over financial gains, according to Reuters.

“Our goal is to work toward an East-Asia community,” said Sihasak. “It’s meant to realize the potential of the region, not to become a bloc.”