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Originally published Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 6:26 PM

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China-ASEAN trade deal goes into effect today

A free-trade agreement between China and Southeast Asia comes into force today, consolidating a sixfold surge in economic activity over the past decade between countries representing a quarter of the world's population.

Bloomberg News

A free-trade agreement between China and Southeast Asia comes into force today, consolidating a sixfold surge in economic activity over the past decade between countries representing a quarter of the world's population.

The agreement expands a limited 2005 trade area between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), scrapping tariffs on about 90 percent of goods.

China's economic clout in Southeast Asian countries has risen over the past decade as policy makers slashed tariffs on electronics, automobile parts and computer chips. Japan, India, Europe and the U.S. have followed China in courting ASEAN, home to investments from Intel, the world's largest maker of computer chips, and Toyota, the biggest carmaker.

"This [free-trade agreement] is going to make a difference at the margin to some ASEAN countries but not others," said Razeen Sally, a director at the European Centre for International Political Economy. "Basically it takes down the tariffs but does little on all the non-tariff barriers where you would have much bigger gains to trade."

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

Wide economic disparity has hindered the group's efforts to form a single market, as the purchasing power of the group's four richest countries was 10 times greater than that of the other members last year.

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