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28 February 2010

Asean to help push for global trade talks resumption

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Southeast Asian governments will discuss ways to restart the latest round of global trade talks this weekend as optimism for completing an accord appears to have faded, the Bloomberg news reported

World Trade Organization negotiations on a new accord have been dogged by clashes between rich and poor economies since talks began in Doha, Qatar in 2001. The Group of 20 industrial and emerging nations and WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy want to complete an accord this year.

“We were quite bullish and optimistic” at the end of last year that the Doha round would progress, said Malaysian International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed, who is hosting a retreat this weekend in Putrajaya, near Kuala Lumpur, for ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “There is no ground for optimism.”

Asia’s export-dependent economies are emerging from recession as global demand increases for the region’s computer chips, cars and commodities. Asean members have sought to boost growth by signing trade deals and agreements to form an integrated economic community modeled on the European Union, without a common currency, by 2015.

A “stock-taking meeting” on the WTO’s Doha round scheduled for late March “might not happen,” Mustapa said. “This is an opportunity for us to share with each other the interactions we’ve been having in the past few months on Doha.”

Six of Asean’s 10 members formed a free-trade area on Jan. 1, eliminating tariffs between their countries on more than 87 percent of imports. Other members, which are less developed, will follow later.

Southeast Asia wants to be seen by investors as a single entity with a combined potential market of 584 million people. To-date, wide economic disparity among Asean members has hindered the region’s ability to leverage its market and compete for investments with China and India, the world’s fastest- growing economies.

The ministers this weekend will informally discuss integration efforts, including minimising customs procedures. The meeting is expected to address issues related to Asean’s free-trade agreements with the likes of Australia and New Zealand and their impact on domestic industries, including fears of increased competition.

Several Asean countries, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, have received private-sector complaints about a potential influx of cheap goods resulting from the Asean-China free-trade deal, Mustapa said. China’s agreement with Southeast Asia came into effect on Jan. 1, scrapping tariffs on 90 percent of goods.

Ministers are also expected to discuss the direction of Asean beyond 2015. Their discussions come ahead of a summit of Asean leaders in Vietnam in April.


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