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Asia-Europe Meeting wraps up

Leaders at the Asia-Europe Meeting renounced protectionism and vowed to promote free trade during a summit in Laos. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle pledged an even closer relationship with the region.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle arrives for a plenary session on the second day of the ASEM Summit in Vientiane November 6, 2012. A high-profile group of leaders and foreign ministers from Asia and Europe gathered at the capital of Laos for the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit, held once every two years and scheduled from November 5 to 6. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (LAOS - Tags: POLITICS)

ASEM Gipfel Westerwelle Vientiane Laos

The two-day Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) ended Tuesday in the capital city Vientiane, where leaders sought to strengthen trade links between the two regions.

“This is more and more a partnership that goes far beyond mutual economic interests,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said as the talks wrapped up, adding that Europe and Asia would continue to work together even more closely in the political sphere.

"We share an interest in free trade and regulated financial markets," Westerwelle said, adding that the European Union was pursuing free trade agreements with India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

Among the topics of discussion was Europe's ongoing sovereign debt crisis.

A closing statement said the Asian and European delegates expected that "the European economy will gradually recover and welcomed actions taken by the European Union and its member states to address the situation."

Leaders against protectionism

Earlier, the foreign minister of Spain, one of the countries hardest hit by the crisis, stressed the need to keep the channels of free trade open.

"The worst thing... as we learned in the 2009 crisis, is to adopt protectionist measures," Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo said. "That's exactly the opposite of what we need."

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak spoke of "a commitment to enlarge trade and green technology and fight protectionism."

"There is the recognition that growth is important and all the European leaders seem to agree... but you can't get growth when you are saddled with too much sovereign debt," Najib warned.

This year the summit welcomed Bangladesh, Norway, and Switzerland as new partners, bringing membership in the grouping to a total of 51 nations.

hc/pfd (dpa, dapd, AFP)