The idea of a pan-Asia free trade zone may be slow to become a reality, but the appetite for freer trade among once-closed nations is clear, Prime Minister John Key said yesterday.
In a meeting with new Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mr Key was told India was willing to consider seriously a trade deal.
Officials from both countries had been looking at the issue but until now it had not been a serious prospect because of India's heavy protection of its agricultural sector.
Mr Key had pointed out the benefits that both China and New Zealand had gained from their trade deal and the links between India and New Zealand.
He believed there was momentum building through the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), as well as the wider East Asia Summit, which includes China, Japan, Korea (known as the Asean plus three nations) and India, Australia and New Zealand.
Japan is pushing hard for a vast trade bloc covering all the nations, though some are cautious – most notably China – about the inclusion of India, Australia and New Zealand. China is a strong presence in the region and it is putting up billions of dollars for infrastructure spending, as well as cheap loans to maintain financial stability there.
Australia is also putting forward the idea of an Asian Pacific community, which seems to be an extension of Apec into wider areas and trade.
Mr Key said all of the proposals were good ones and he would support whatever got greater free trade and co-operation in the region.
He said countries also agreed on the need for greater co-ordination in disaster relief.
This issue had once again come to the foreground after the recent earthquake in Indonesia and tsunami in Samoa.
What form this co-operation would take was still to be sorted out, with Japan offering to host a specific conference on the issue.
The summit in Hua Hin has passed without incident so far with a heavy military presence and draconian laws that ban protests in the area.
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