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NEWS UPDATES 28 August 2010

EU, India see Asean deals

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The European Union expects to conclude a free trade deal with Singapore by the end of next year and is likely to begin talks with other Southeast Asian nations soon.

India hopes for an early conclusion to talks on a deal for the free flow of investment and services with the region.

The EU's trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, said Europe still hopes to ultimately reach a region-wide deal with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

He said a regional pact has not been possible partly because of military-ruled Myanmar, which is under European sanctions.

Another hindrance was the differing levels of economic development within the 10-member Asean, he said.

Attempts to reach a pact with all of the Asean members except Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos were suspended last year. The EU began looking at bilateral pacts after the suspension.

De Gucht said two rounds of talks have been held with Singapore the region's most developed economy and a third is to take place next month.

He added that formal free trade talks with Vietnam are likely to begin before the end of this year, followed by other countries "in the coming months".

De Gucht declined to name the other nations but he told AFP that each of the seven that participated in the earlier suspended talks "have expressed in one way or another interest".

Asean itself is working towards a single market and manufacturing base by 2015.

De Gucht said that once such an integrated market is achieved it would make sense for the region's bilateral trade pacts to be consolidated into a region-wide deal.

Asked whether such a deal could, however, be reached unless the human rights situation in Myanmar improves, he told AFP: "It's obvious that we are not ready, the European Union is not ready, to negotiate with Myanmar but who knows what the political situation will be in Myanmar in five years or in seven years."

The EU is the bloc's largest foreign investor, and second-largest trade partner, with two-way trade worth almost US$172 billion last year.

For India, Anand Sharma, commerce minister is optimistic about the early conclusion of talks with Asean on the free trade of goods.

New Delhi and Asean last year signed a pact for the free trade of goods, and Anand Sharma said follow-up talks on investment and services were going well.

"Hopefully we can expect an early closure ... very early," he said after annual talks with his Asean counterparts, adding that negotiations would resume next week.

Leaders of Asean and India are to hold a summit in late October, when progress on the investment and services deal will be reviewed, Sharma said.

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