China and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed a landmark free trade zone agreement at a summit meeting in Laos. Fully implemented, the zone could eventually encompass a quarter of the planet's population in a single market worth US$2trn. However, while the agreement commits members to lower tariffs by 2010, it includes thousands of exclusions for "sensitive goods", excludes services and contains no mechanism for tackling non-tariff barriers. It also gives four of the poorer South-East Asian countries until 2015 to comply. The 11 signatories also agreed to plans for a biennial East Asian Summit, which advocates said would help create a new trade bloc to rival the US and EU.
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