The Asia-Pacific region, already nearly as large as the automotive markets of North America and Europe, is poised to become the largest in the world by the end of the decade and the rate of growth that already has been experienced in the region has been higher than that of North America and Europe since 1985, according to a senior Ford executive.

David Snyder, executive director for business development and associations management, Ford Asia-Pacific, outlined the growth potential for the region at the eighth Asia-Pacific Automotive Industry Roundtable, hosted by The Economist, in Bangkok.

Between now and 2010, 60% of the world's automotive growth will come from Asia, Snyder said, and of that 60%, about half will come from China, followed by ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and India.

"Ford has established a strong footprint in Asia with manufacturing facilities in nine countries. We believe that we are well positioned for the growth in this region, underscored by our capability to expand into exports to global markets," said Snyder.

Last month, Ford chairman and CEO Bill Ford visited Thailand, along with the Philippines and China, and announced expansions and investment plans exceeding $US1.5 billion. About $500 million will be invested to expand AutoAlliance Thailand, a joint venture between Ford and Mazda, and to introduce new products. These investments will be made over the next few years.

Yet, despite this potential, Snyder called upon the industry to address the issue of non-tariff barriers to trade which he cautioned could hamper the anticipated rate of growth.

"Although the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) is solidifying," Snyder said, "tax policies risk dampening demand for cars and trucks and holding back the development of the ASEAN auto industry, which has the potential to become the world's fifth largest auto market. We need a common set of tax principles in the region, common vehicle standards, harmonised regulations and globally recognised customs practices. The fair and timely implementation of AFTA can bring about more reasonable trade balances across the ASEAN region," he said.

"Our actions in Asia clearly demonstrate our confidence in the strong growth in Asia. Ford's commitment to Asia is for the long-term," he added.

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