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 20 Jan 2009

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Britain seeks to push EU-Asean FTA

Britain is interested in discussing free trade agreements (FTAs) between the European Union and selected Southeast Asian countries, seeing that as a way to reinvigorate talks on a deal with the region as a whole, reported Reuters.

Europe and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) opened free trade negotiations in 2007 but little progress has been made, and Gareth Thomas, British minister for trade, development and consumer affairs, said he hoped breakthroughs with individual countries could lead the way to a broader deal.

"We have wondered whether or not it's now time for us to, in a sense, take forward individual free trade agreement discussions with a small group of Asean countries as a precursor to a regional deal," Thomas told Reuters in Hanoi on Monday.

"It's quite clear that we are not going to get significant progress regionally within the Asean bloc."

Thomas did not predict when deals with the 10-nation group or individual states could be reached, but said he and other ministers would try to accelerate the FTA discussions at an EU trade ministers' meeting on Jan. 25.

"These markets are opening up in a significant way, but there are still taxes and tariffs and all sorts of non-tariff barriers to trade in this region. Similarly, Asean countries have their issues with the EU," he said.

However, in the face of the global slowdown it made sense to forge deeper trade ties with countries with growing economies.

The International Monetary Fund and others predict the gross domestic product of Vietnam will grow at a rate of 5 percent this year, a significant drop from 2008's 6.23 percent and 2007's robust rate of 8.5 percent.

Still, Thomas said 5 percent would be good in comparison with some other parts of the world.

"There is a great opportunity with their economies still growing to ... try and accelerate negotiations in our view with a number of those states that want to progress things. We want to talk to the Vietnamese about that," he said.
Asean groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.














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