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Free Trade
July 23, 2007

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations probably won't reach a free-trade agreement with the U.S., loomberg news quoted Asean Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong as saying in Singapore on July 23.

``I don't think we can have an FTA with the U.S.,'' Ong said. ``The US is terribly distracted by other things, especially in the Middle East.''

The U.S. signed a trade and investment framework agreement with Asean in August 2006 that was aimed at boosting economic ties with the region, and possibly leading to a free trade deal in the future.

``At some point, we could build toward an Asean-wide FTA,'' US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in an interview published in Singapore's Straits Times newspaper on July 23. ``I do not think any of us has ruled that out. But at this stage of the game, it is premature talking about it.''

US-Asean ties aren't at a low point even though America's top representatives are skipping two major Asean-initiated events in the next few weeks, Ong said. Support from the US, Asean's largest source of foreign direct investment, is crucial for the region's political stability, he said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice won't attend a key security and foreign policy meeting with Asean in Manila next week, Ong said. He also confirmed President George W. Bush will miss a meeting of the 10 Asean leaders in Singapore in September. Bloomberg

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