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18 May 2009

Asean yet to make commitments to FTA with EU

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The European Commission (EC) said it has not been getting commitments from the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in the negotiations for a free-trade agreement (FTA) but welcomed member countries of Asean to push for bilateral deals with the regional bloc, reported Philippines newspaper Business Mirror on its website.

Ambassador Alistair Macdonald, head of the EC delegation to the Philippines, said lead negotiators for the European Union (EU)-Asean FTA have agreed to “pause and reflect” as there had been no concrete commitments being made by the Asean.

“The negotiators from both parties agreed to pause and reflect... I think such decision was reached during their last meeting in Hanoi,” said Macdonald in a chance interview at the recent EU national day celebration held in Hotel Mandarin in Makati City.

The EU has been facing roadblocks in getting Asean to commit to major policies for the free-trade agreement. He said most of the policies presented do not reflect the commitments of the Asean region as a whole but “mere experts’ views.”

“So both parties have agreed to pause for some time,” said Macdonald. But he said some member countries of Asean can push with the trade negotiations with the EU while others are not ready to make commitments.

He clarified that not all member countries of the Asean are not ready to make commitments for the proposed free-trade pact.

The EU and Asean started formal negotiations for the free-trade deal in May 2007 in Brunei that aims to facilitate trade between two of the world’s largest and most influential regional blocs.

The last formal talks for the EU-Asean FTA was held in October last year in Hanoi,Vietnam where the negotiators discussed technical barriers to trade  and measures to manage the impact of technical regulations on business to improve Asean market access to the EU.

Under the proposed trade pact with the EU, individual Asean members will first need to sign a partnership cooperation agreement with the EU to be able to qualify for the FTA.

The bilateral agreement covers cooperation on wide-ranging issues that are in line with the EU core values on promoting human rights, rule of law and democracy. It seeks to commit Asean members to ratify the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Indonesia has concluded negotiations for a PCA with the EU, while Singapore and Thailand are in advance stages of negotiations. Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are about to begin negotiations.

The EU has not included Cambodia, Laos and Burma (also known as Myanmar) in the proposed FTA and may negotiate at a latter stage with the first two countries. It has excluded Burma because of concerns about the human-rights situation in that military junta-ruled Asean member.

The Philippines, on the other hand, admitted that human rights and the need to ratify the ICC are among the sticky issues in the bilateral agreement negotiations.







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