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EU-Asia Leaders Talk Trade At ASEM Summit

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso arrives for the opening ceremony for the ASEM summit in Vientiane, Laos, on November 5.
Leaders from Europe and Asia are attending a two-day summit in the Laotian capital, Vientiane.

High on the agenda of the ninth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) are discussions on trade between the two regions amid the eurozone crisis.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso opened the summit.

Barroso highlighted the progress in economic cooperation between the two blocs.

"The European Union's open market has been the main destination of Asian exports. European Union trade with ASEM partners has increased by 50 percent in the last six years. The European Union is also the biggest source of foreign direct investment in the region," Barroso said.

"Our development policies have also been helping to lift people out of poverty through development cooperation in many Asian [partner countries]."

Barroso added that the European Union was looking forward to further expanding economic cooperation with ASEAN.

"I am convinced that we, Asia and Europe, have only to gain from increasing our cooperation," he said. "So, on behalf of the European Union, let me underline our desire to further develop our region-to-region relations."

Looking To Trade

ASEM is an informal process of dialogue and cooperation bringing together the 27 European Union states and the 19 Asian members of ASEAN.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told the gathering that free-trade agreements were an important tool in promoting mutually beneficial development.

"We are currently negotiating a number of free-trade agreements with Asian partners," Van Rompuy said. "With some of them, we already have [free-trade agreements], with the aim to increase further market access and job opportunities with mutual benefits."

Among the leaders present are French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, who are leading efforts to boost the crisis-hit EU's trade relations with Asia's fast-growing economies.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told participants that major economic institutions needed a clear and reliable plan to solve EU's debt crisis.

The European Union is China's biggest trading partner, and Wen's comments showed the concern in Beijing that Europe's troubles could spread farther.

French President Hollande followed Wen's statement, calling on every country to stick to the rules of the free market.

"We believe in an open market system, but we ask that everyone makes the same effort with the same clarity," he said.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa