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Japan-Thailand move on trade talks

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TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) -- Japan and Thailand have decided to start formal talks on a free trade agreement (FTA), the leaders of the two countries said in a statement.

The move is part of Tokyo's efforts to catch up with China, which is already in talks to create a free trade zone with the whole of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by 2010.

The statement, issued after a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said talks should begin in early 2004 but did not give a deadline for concluding the free trade pact.

The move, which comes on the heels of a similar agreement between Japan and Malaysia reached earlier in the day, is part of Tokyo's efforts to create its own broad free trade agreement with ASEAN.

Japan also hopes to get an agreement to start talks on an FTA with the Philippines in a separate meeting to be held on the sidelines of a two-day ASEAN leaders' summit that will kick off in Tokyo later on Thursday.

Non-member Japan is hosting the meeting to reaffirm its cooperation and support for ASEAN, to which it has given substantial amounts of aid.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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