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Asian Economic Integration Will Take at Least 50 Years to Reach EU Level
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Long Yongtu, secretary-general of the Boao Forum for Asia, said Friday that Asia will take at least 50 years to reach the current economic integration level of the European Union (EU).

"Globalization is accelerating the pace of economic integration, but Asian countries still need at least 50 years to reach the EU level due to huge differences in history, culture and values, and particularly in levels of economic development," he told a press conference in Beijing.

Long, China's former chief WTO negotiator, said economic integration is marked by unified tariff, financial and monetary policies, and a single currency.

He said conditions are not mature for Asia to unify its currency and financial and monetary policies. "The continent should focus more on practical fields like the Pan-Asian railway and Asian telecom cooperation."

Asia, like the EU, has taken its first steps on the road to economic integration, as it seeks to develop free trade zones, he said.

"All the Asian countries should carry out more wide-ranging cooperation on infrastructure, human resources, energy and environment."

He said he hoped the Boao Forum for Asia will become the first cooperation mechanism to bring East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and Central Asia closer together.

The non-governmental forum was formed in 2001 to achieve prosperity in Asia by promoting economic integration. It hosts senior government officials, business executives and leading academics from around the world at its annual conference every April in Boao, on the southern-most island province of Hainan.

Long acknowledged that it may take decades for most of China's industries to churn out high value-added, top brand products. He said that low labor costs would continue to the country's biggest foreign trade competitive advantage for the foreseeable future.

(Xinhua News Agency April 7, 2007)

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