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EU nations and ASEAN to begin free-trade negotiations

LUXEMBOURG (AP) _ EU nations said Monday they would begin talks on free-trade pacts
with India, South Korea and the 10-nation ASEAN group that could add more than -40
billion (US$54 billion) to Europe's annual exports.

The agreements, once negotiated, would "open new markets to EU businesses and give a
valuable boost to global trade," EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said.
The European Union's 27 foreign ministers said, however, that an overall global
trade agreement remains the bloc's "first priority."

Negotiations with the Asian nations were expected to start within months. EU
officials said a speedy schedule was needed to catch up with rivals, such as the
United States, which recently reached a breakthrough free-trade pact with Seoul.
The EU also wants to secure a hold in other strong Asian markets, such as India,
China and Japan.

After the stalling of negotiations in brokering a world trade pact, the EU has
agreed to talks with Central American nations and other Latin American countries
toward broadening its trade options.

Negotiations with Asian nations would be aimed at reaching so-called new generation
trade deals, which include opening up trade in goods and services, investment and
eliminating non-tariff barriers, such as technical standards and quotas.

Officials said, however, that talks with 10 members of Association of Southeast
Asian Nations _ Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the
Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam _ would be conditional on those
countries' meeting human rights standards.

The bloc currently applies economic and political sanctions against Myanmar because
of its failure to democratize and release political prisoners.

The European Commission said the pacts, once successfully concluded, could add
billions to European exports to a region where it has no prior free-trade pacts.

An EU analysis released Monday said such trade accords would "create significant new
trade and give a valuable boost to global trade, especially in services." The
Commission said EU exports to ASEAN could jump by 24.2 percent, 57 percent to India
and around 48 percent to South Korea.

European Union exports would rise by 40 billion euros ($54.3 billion) a year if the bloc
reaches planned new free trade agreements (FTAs) with countries
in Asia, the European Commission said.

EU foreign ministers on Monday approved mandates for the
Commission to negotiate the FTAs with India, South Korea and the
Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"New independent research released by the European
Commission today suggests that the agreements could add more
than 40 billion euros to EU exports annually and provide wide
new trade opportunities for all sides," the EU executive said.

"The three deals combined could increase total EU exports
(1.3 trillion euros in 2005) by 3.23 percent," the Commission
added in a statement. "They offer an increase of GDP of 0.13
percent for the EU."

At the same time, ASEAN would see an 18.5 percent increase
of its exports to the EU while those of South Korea and India to
the 27-nation bloc would rise by 36 and by 18.7 percent
respectively, it said.

EU trade chief Peter Mandelson has said bilateral and
regional FTAs will help open up new markets for European
companies as they will cover areas such as investment rules and
non-tariff barriers not included in global trade talks.

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