Europe presses Asia to open economies, boost demand

European financial crisis

Europe pressed Asian countries on Tuesday to open their economies further and urged China to ramp up domestic demand as it seeks to tap into the faster-growing region and ease the effects of its long-running economic crisis.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the 49 countries of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) agreed to a strong rejection of protectionism at a two-day summit in Vientiane, Laos.

But Europe made no concrete progress on trade deals with its Asian counterparts and several leaders voiced concern about the increasing use of non-tariff barriers as some countries seek to raise protective trade walls.

The European Union's planned free-trade agreement with Japan, for example, has hit a stumbling block over dismantling non-tariff barriers in the Asian country. Free trade talks with India are also making slow progress.

It's very important for all of us to avoid - namely when there are problems in terms of financial and economic crisis - what could be a temptation for different countries to become more inward-looking, Barroso said. The European Union is definitely on the side of those who want more open trade.

Global policymakers are scrambling to avoid a fresh economic downturn as the 17-member euro zone economy slides toward recession this year and the United States heads for a fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes in January.

Falling European demand has been a drag on Asian economic activity this year, obliging governments to step up investment and other spending to stimulate domestic demand.

Zhu Min, Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, has warned that a further deterioration in Europe's economies could knock as much as 2.0 percent off economic growth in the United States and Japan and 1 percent from China's economy.

Some Asian leaders have hinted at frustration with the European financial crisis, urging more decisive action to shore up growth. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said on Monday that Europe should take courageous and expeditious implementation of the rescue steps it had agreed.

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