Nations in Southeast Asia will harmonize customs procedures and dispute settlement mechanisms in an effort to boost trade and investment within the region.
Economic ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, agreed to cooperate in settling issues such as the rule of origin, customs procedures, dispute settlement mechanism, and standard and performance of goods and services, Brunei's Minister of Industry and Primary Resources Abdul Rahman Bin Dato Mohammad Taib said.
"These issues have been considered as hampering the implementation of the ASEAN free-trade area," Taib, who was serving as the chair of a two-day ASEAN economic ministers meeting, told reporters in Jakarta.
"We will discuss the more concrete steps at the ASEAN summit in Bali in October," he said.
The ministers also agreed to appoint coordinators to cooperate with the private sector in an effort to boost the competitiveness of ASEAN's key industries, Taib said.
The Philippines will become the coordinator for the electronic industry. Indonesia will coordinate the wood-based and automotive industry; Myanmar for agro-based and fisheries.
Thailand will be in charge for airlines and tourism, Malaysia for rubber-based, textiles and garments. Singapore will coordinate e-business and healthcare, Taib said.
The region, which in the early 1990s attracted capital from around the world, is struggling to lure investors whose focus has shifted to China since the world's fastest-growing and most populous nation joined the WTO more than a year ago, an ASEAN report said.
The task has been complicated by the Bali bomb attack in October last year that highlighted the growing threat of terrorism in the region.
Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have arrested members of the Jemaah Islamiyah group, which they say has links to al-Qaeda.