Toyota Australia has welcomed the announcement at the ASEAN, Australian and New Zealand leaders' summit that negotiations would commence in early 2005 for a free trade agreement (FTA), to be completed in two years.

Company chairman John Conomos said that an FTA agreement with ASEAN would assist in obtaining full benefits from existing or proposed trade agreements with ASEAN members Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.

"ASEAN is increasingly becoming an integrated market and it makes sense for Australian manufacturers to do business with the whole region, not just selected countries.

"While it is too early to talk about potential export opportunities that may arise from an FTA with ASEAN, a removal of trade barriers will allow Australian manufacturers to compete on a more equal basis with ASEAN based competitors," Conomos said.

Toyota Australia is Australia's leading exporter of motor vehicles, with more than half of the production from its plant in Altona, Victoria, shipped to customers in 24 countries, mainly to the Middle East.