ASEAN, Japan ministers to meet with business leaders

KUALA LUMPUR, July 7, 2011 (AFP) - Ministers from Southeast Asia and Japan will join business leaders for the first time Friday in talks on lifting trade barriers and securing closer economic ties, Malaysia said Thursday.

Industry leaders from Southeast Asia and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry asked the politicians to join them at an annual two-day gathering in Kuala Lumpur aimed at addressing problems faced by Japanese investors targeting the 10-nation region.

"They are expected to deliberate on the implementation of the ASEAN Free Trade Area... as well as ways to address barriers to trade in order to boost economic cooperation," the trade ministry said in a statement.

"Other key issues include problems faced by Japan's private sector when investing in ASEAN and ways to boost their investments," it added.

Trade ministers or senior officials from most of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- including from Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia -- are participating. Myanmar is not attending.

A Malaysian official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the ministers would also discuss the economic impact of Japan's March 11 earthquake-tsunami on the region and how ASEAN could help in the country's recovery.

The Bank of Japan's keenly-watched Tankan survey of business confidence plunged in the months after the disaster, turning negative for the first time in more than a year, as factories were shuttered, power shut off and supply lines broken.

While firms expect conditions to improve by September, analysts warned that the pace of Japan's recovery was uncertain amid power shortages following the crisis at the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Japan has always been the top source of foreign direct investment in ASEAN, pouring in $5.2 billion in 2009.

Trade between ASEAN and Japan in 2010 is estimated at $220 billion, well up from $160.9 billion in 2009.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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