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NEWS UPDATES 2 June 2010

Asean-GCC partnership agreement to enhance ties

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Foreign Ministers from Asean and the Gulf Cooperation Council have adopted a two-year action plan to enhance relations, Singapore’s online news agency the Channel News Asia reported.

The plan spells out concrete measures to bring about partnerships in the areas of economy, education and culture. The agreement comes at the end of a ministerial meeting in Singapore.

This is just the second ASEAN-Gulf Cooperation Council Meeting and already there is chemistry among the foreign ministers. Their retreat in Singapore was described as fruitful and productive.

There was also a sense of urgency in getting things moving. Relations between Southeast Asia and the Middle East are still in a nascent stage, with potential still largely untapped.

The 2-year Plan Of Action outlines measures to be undertaken to unlock this potential by 2012.

Sheikh Dr Mohammed Al-Sabah Al-Salim Al Sabah, Kuwait's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, said: "We have to know each other and this knowledge is a fundamental requirement for a prosperous, long-term and solid economic cooperation."

Cooperation in trade and investment will include discussions over a possible Asean-GCC Free Trade Agreement (FTA). A roundtable involving officials from both sides will be formed to look into what this entails.

Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said: "The foreign ministers have expressed their political will, but the private sector and the various other officials in other areas will have to be brought together...

"Eventually, we are aiming for an FTA, but at this point we cannot specify the date. We need to explore what needs to be improved and what needs to be fulfilled on both sides for us to have the FTA."

One of the immediate tasks would be to get the private sector involved in the formation of a GCC-Asean Business Forum and an Investment Conference.

Trade between both regions has gone up considerably over the past six to seven years - from just $20 billion to about $100 billion.

Beyond economics, there will be partnerships in education - for example, in developing university curricula and student exchanges. To enhance cultural understanding, GCC Day and Asean Day festivities have been mooted for members.

As part of their visit, the ministers also called on Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana.

The next Asean-GCC meeting will be held in Abu Dhabi next year. But the first progress report on the action plan is expected to be presented on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly in September.


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