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Trade Minister Tim Groser Friday signed the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN - Australia - New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) at an official signing ceremony in Hua Hin, Thailand.
"This agreement is of considerable economic and strategic importance for New Zealand," Mr Groser said.
"Significant benefits for New Zealand exporters have been achieved, including the phased elimination of trade barriers, greater certainty and transparency, and reductions in associated transaction costs.
"Over time, 99 per cent of New Zealand's trade to key ASEAN markets of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam will be duty free.
"ASEAN is New Zealand's third largest export market - growing 121 per cent since 2000 and worth $4.6 billion in 2008. Globally ASEAN represents a market of more than 566 million people and accounts for more than US$1,400 billion in trade.
"This agreement will not only provide better market access and more certainty for our businesses in this vital region. It also sends the message that Australia, New Zealand and the members of ASEAN believe that continued regional economic integration, not protectionism, is the best way to bring us through the most serious international economic crisis we have faced since the Great Depression."
Mr Groser said that the culmination of AANZFTA underlined the bipartisan nature of New Zealand trade policy, and he paid tribute to the efforts of successive Governments to bringing the negotiation to a successful conclusion.
"Its foundation stone was the Agreement between New Zealand and Singapore on a Closer Economic Partnership (CEP), commenced in 1999.
"Its principal objective was to establish a strategic bridge between the Australia and New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CER) and ASEAN. That was taken forward by a CER/ASEAN Task Force on which New Zealand was represented by Sir William Birch, to look into the feasibility of a combined FTA.
"The formal negotiation was initiated and completed during the previous Government's watch and I congratulate both of the previous Ministers of Trade, Mr Sutton and Mr Goff, for their leadership of that negotiation.
"I am delighted to be here in Thailand with the current Opposition Spokesperson on Trade, Ms Maryan Street to witness the final step in this process - the signing of the AANZFTA," Mr Groser said.
The FTA would now be subject to the parliamentary examination process.
"My hope is that, subject to the necessary parliamentary processes being completed, the FTA will come into force as early as 1 July 2009," Mr Groser said.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, is made up of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Viet Nam, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia.
For more information about the FTA, including the full text of the agreement, visit www.ASEAN.FTA.govt.nz. A series of seminars throughout the country are planned to help explain the details of the agreement to businesses and interested parties.