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East Asia readies emergency measures to overcome oil supply concerns

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- Facing runaway oil prices and security fears, East Asian officials meeting in Manila will make emergency plans that included creating oil reserves and finding alternative sources for their energy imports.

Energy ministers from Japan, China, South Korea and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, will emphasize the need for oil stockpiling, with Japan and South Korea providing technical help, according to draft documents for the Manila meeting obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

"We recognize the importance of oil stockpile for supply security," said a draft of a joint statement, expected to be issued Wednesday.

The ministers also are calling for better sharing of oil data, more oil trade within Asia, dialogues and partnerships with producers outside the region, and investment in alternative energy sources such as natural gas.

They want to bolster the dissemination of clean coal technology, and said coal is an abundant and economical energy resource in this region -- which is becoming the world's largest consumer of energy.

Philippine Energy Secretary Vincent Perez, the meeting's chairman, told reporters that officials would discuss why Asian buyers pay about $1.50 per barrel more for Middle East crude oil than those in Europe or the United States.

Mideast producers have been accused of capitalizing on Asia's heavy reliance on Gulf crude amid a lack of competing sources of supply. Asia accounts for 40 percent of world oil consumption.

A separate draft document said ASEAN energy ministers would adopt the so-called ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation for 2004-2009 -- a plan for promoting sustainable energy development, energy security and integrated regional energy infrastructures. It also contains policies for market reforms and liberalization, as well as environment protection.

Among the planned projects is the implementation of an ASEAN power grid and trans-ASEAN gas pipeline.

"The ministers reaffirmed that interconnected networks of electricity grids and gas pipelines in the ASEAN region offer significant benefits both in terms of security, flexibility and quality of energy supply and greater competition," the document said.

ASEAN ministers also agreed to consider a system of regional coordination during petroleum shortages and emergencies. In addition, they'll consider pursuing dialogue with Middle East oil-producing countries to promote stable and secure energy markets in the region.

ASEAN, a market of more than 520 million people with a total area of 1.74 million square miles, has a combined gross domestic product of about $610 billion and total trade of more than $700 billion.

Southeast Asian senior officials began the meeting in Manila's Makati financial district on Monday. It will be followed by a meeting of energy ministers from the ASEAN countries and Japan, South Korea and China on Wednesday. Ministers from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, which includes the United States, will meet on Thursday.

ASEAN's members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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