HUA HIN -- Southeast Asian foreign ministers called for a planned multi-billion-dollar emergency fund to be boosted as a "matter of urgency" to fight the global downturn, a top official said.
Asian finance ministers agreed last weekend to increase the size of the proposed fund from $80 billion to $120 billion but did not give a date for setting it up.
The foreign exchange pool functions as an emergency credit line for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and will be created with assistance from China, Japan and South Korea.
"The foreign ministers agreed that this is a matter of urgency," ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan told reporters after the ministers held an informal dinner late Thursday at the grouping's annual summit in Thailand.
He said they agreed it should be completed "most desirably" before the 10 ASEAN leaders meet with their Chinese, Japanese and South Korean counterparts in April.
He said the leaders had also agreed to hold the so-called ASEAN+3 summit from April 10-12.
The meeting was originally due to take place in December alongside the summit, but both were postponed because of political turmoil in Thailand.
An ASEAN foreign ministry official said that the group's leaders planned to issue a statement on the fund at the end of the summit which lasts from Friday until Sunday.
ASEAN's 10 member states plus China, Japan and South Korea agreed after the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis to set up the bilateral currency scheme to prevent a repeat of the turmoil.
The Asian nations now want to expand that agreement into a multilateral reserve pool, as the current economic climate threatens millions of jobs as well as recent robust growth in the developing economies.
The foreign ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the statement would include a section on the "need to multilateralize" the fund.