The United States will affirm its commitment to Asean when top officials meet to sign a five-year framework aimed at improving economic and political ties, the Bangkok Post reports.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is planning to attend the Asean Ministerial Meeting in Malaysia, with the agreement scheduled to be signed on July 27.

The agreement is part of the Asean-US Enhanced Partnership initiated by US President George W. Bush and leaders of seven Asean countries attending the Apec summit in Busan, Korea last November. Three Asean members - Burma, Cambodia and Laos - are not members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation group. Thailand, as the Asean coordinator for the partnership program, drafted the plan with the US, which includes calls to improve co-operation in science and technology, education and the environment, maritime security, defense and support of efforts against terrorism, narcotics and human trafficking.

The two sides hope that the first Asean-US summit can be held next year, which marks the 30th anniversary of ties.

On the economic front, the framework calls for support of the Asean-TIFA, or Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, co-operation on competition policy, intellectual property rights and standards.

The TIFA is hoped to lead to a region-wide free-trade area with the US.The Asean region hosts about US$88 billion worth of direct US investment and is the third largest overseas market for American exports. Two-way Asean-US trade totaled $136 billion in 2005, with US exports to Asean countries estimated to support 800,000 American jobs. (Thai News Service)