The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) wants an economy that will "lead the world" by 2015. To these ends, the group has commissioned a study on the feasibility of wrapping some of the world's most populated nations into a "freed trade zone" bloc not dissimilar to the European Union, according to published reports.

The Asian leaders, who are meeting in Thailand, said the association would tie together the ASEAN nations and regional partners "China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand," the BBC reported.

The British news agency quoted Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama as saying, "It would be meaningful for us to have the aspiration that East Asia is going to lead the world." Wire service AFP added that the proposal for an East Asian community had come from Hatoyama.

"Right now we have bilateral free trade agreements with all six countries completely. Now we should explore a feasibility study both in the East Asia Free Trade Area and with (India, Australia and New Zealand)," he said.

Asia's quick rebound from the global recession compared with the United States and other Western economies has prompted calls for the region to increase integration.

However, the BBC noted that a proposal to include the United States in such an economic community was a point of contention at the ASEAN meeting.

"Some Congressional leaders are reportedly urging the Obama Administration to pursue a free-trade agreement with ASEAN, but this is likely to prove contentious," economic blogger Marc Chandler added. U.S. leaders plan to appoint an ambassador to the ASEAN and stage a summit with leaders in November, he also noted.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, presenting a six-point proposal to ASEAN leaders, suggested first that "the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area should be brought into play through publicizing laws and regulations on the free-trade area and the professional training of human resources for it, and by assisting enterprises to make good use of its preferential policies," China Daily reported.

Wen also added that "he hoped the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization (CMIM), a 120-billion-U.S.-dollar regional reserve pool aimed at providing emergency liquidity for countries in financial crisis, could be launched by the end of this year," China View news reported.

China said it is planning a conference on forming the new Free Trade Area and developing guidelines for business within it. "By 2010, tariffs on almost all goods traded between ASEAN and China would be eliminated," Xinhua reported.

Bilateral trade between ASEAN nations and China has grown from $60 billion to $192 billion per year in just the last six years, Xinhua added.

With AFP.