TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Monday completed the signing of a comprehensive free trade agreement, Japan's first with a regional bloc, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.
The ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement will come into force on the first day of the second month after Japan and at least one member state of ASEAN complete domestic procedures, such as parliamentary endorsement, according to a joint press release by Japan and ASEAN.
''ASEAN member states and Japan look forward to the early entry into force of the AJCEP Agreement, which will provide a strong impetus for further invigoration of trade and investment in the region,'' the release said.
Expectations are high that the accord will take effect in the fall, although Japanese officials briefing reporters declined to specify when given the unpredictable schedule amid the political wrangling in the Diet.
''This agreement will provide legal support for the further development of the manufacturing network between Japan and ASEAN,'' Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said in a separate press statement. ''I hope it will take effect soon to further stimulate trade and investment between Japan and ASEAN and strengthen the region's economic attractiveness.''
Separately, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Akira Amari said, ''This is a big step that will lead us toward the Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia agreement that Japan is pushing for.''
He was referring to a regional free trade agreement that will include ASEAN, Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
Japan has been eager to catch up with China and South Korea amid an intensifying race for regional FTAs. The accord with ASEAN is not only a free trade agreement for goods but also covers services and investment.
Monday's free trade deal with ASEAN will enable Japanese companies that are expanding their markets in Southeast Asia to reduce trade costs. For example, tariffs on Japanese exports from one ASEAN country to another will be removed.
In particular, electronics and automobile manufacturers will also benefit as parts from various countries in the region can be assembled without tariffs being levied.
Japan will repeal tariffs on 93 percent of imports from ASEAN by value within 10 years of the deal taking effect. Meanwhile, six major ASEAN members -- Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand -- will eliminate tariffs on 90 percent of imports from Japan such as automobiles within 10 years.
A more gradual tariff elimination table has been set for the remaining four ASEAN members with smaller economies -- Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.
Japan and ASEAN finalized the deal last November, formally ending two and a half years of negotiations. But the signing of the agreement, by circulating the document among the various nations, was delayed until late March for the wording to be fine-tuned and other procedures.