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December 17, 2008

Asean signs trade deals to ward off slowdown
Southeast Asian nations signed three economic agreements on Tuesday to encourage investment and reduce tariffs, as the region looks to integrate economically and fend off the ill effects of an ailing global economy.

"If you look at the global environment, for the next one, two years, foreign investments are likely to come down, and Asean must continue in its efforts to make itself a very attractive regional venue for foreign investment," Lim Hng Kiang, Singapore's trade minister, told reporters.

Trade ministers from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos and a senior official from Brunei took part in the signing ceremony. The other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) -- the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar -- were not represented.

Asean aims to create an economically integrated bloc by 2015, but with varied political systems and vastly different economic situations, experts have long dismissed the grouping as a talk shop.

The three agreements signed on Tuesday include the Asean Comprehensive Investment Agreement, which aims to protect investors by levelling the playing field and providing compensation for investors who become negatively affected if a country modifies their commitments.

The Asean Trade in Goods Agreement seeks to reduce tariffs for goods traded in the region and to provide a clear framework of custom procedures.

The third, the Asean Framework Agreement on Services, aims to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of the region's air travel, healthcare and tourism sectors.

All three agreements were based on older frameworks that have been refined.

Growth in Southeast Asian economies has slowed dramatically in light of the worsening health of the global economy.

Intra-Asean trade, which accounts for one-quarter of total Asean trade, was valued at $404.3 billion in 2007, said a Malaysian press statement.

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