Seoul spearheads regional customs plan

Seoul spearheads regional customs plan

The first steps are being taken toward the creation of a customs-free zone covering all of East Asia, in part as a response to similar moves in the Americas and Southeast Asia.

Attendees at the opening of a meeting in Seoul of the International Conference on Customs Harmonization and Economic Cooperation are expected to draw up a plan for presentation to next year's meeting of Asian and European customs officials in London.

South Korea's finance ministry and customs service, which drafted the initial discussion paper, said progress will contribute to increased trade in a rapidly growing part of the world, and lay a foundation for later economic integration.

In a statement, the Seoul organizers said, "Europe and the Americas are leaving Asia behind in the trend. Asia has trouble pursuing bilateral or regional free-trade agreements. Several factors are dragging Asia down, such as the different economic development levels and cultural, historical backgrounds."

Commissioner Kim Yong-duk of South Korea's customs agency says the goal of the first session is to devise a road map for cooperation among regional customs authorities by learning from economic integration in place in the European Union; develop measures to facilitate regional trade through simplified and coordinated clearance procedures, and explore possibilities of creating a free-trade region for East Asia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is already well along on establishing a free-trade area among its 10 members Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Brunei and Cambodia, with tariffs being reduced to near zero and closer customs coordination.

A number of bilateral free-trade pacts have also been signed between Asian countries and between some of them and the United States.