Southeast Asian nations have finalized a key agreement allowing qualified banks to operate freely in each other's countries in a push toward greater financial and economic integration.

The regional banking integration framework is part of efforts to create an economic community by the end of the year, making the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations a single market and production base.

ASEAN finance ministers and central bank governors said in a joint statement that qualified ASEAN banks can now operate with greater market access and be accorded flexibilities similar with those of domestic banks in the host country.

They said Saturday after a two-day meeting that this will help accelerate the pace of regional financial integration and boost cross-border trade and investment.