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April 20, 2008

Surin: Take Asean seriously

The Asean Secretary-General, Dr Surin Pitsuwan said he has managed to get more countries, especially the developed ones, to be more enthusiastic about Asean.

"I told them if you take Asean seriously as a group, Asean will behave seriously as a group. I've convinced the European chamber of commerce to think of Asean as a business community so that they will have the size and weight and recognition to interact with," he said at a meeting with Editors Club members, comprising foreign and local media editors at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday.

Surin added members of the chamber were now very enthusiastic about Asean evolving into a community.

Having been in office for about 100 days, the secretary general has travelled to cities around the world to meet Asean dialogue partners and get across the message of a new Asean, reported Indonesia national news agency Antara.

He said China was now setting up an China-Asean Centre to promote better communication, better understanding and better appreciation of the opportunities, potentialities and dynamism of the Southeast Asian region.

"South Korea is doing the same while Japan has it for a long time," he said, adding that the United States had also appointed an ambassador to Asean.

Surin, meanwhile has hailed the signing of the Asean-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership (AJCEP) Tuesday (April 15), saying it adds another milestone to Asean's economic engagement with its dialogue partners, reported Malaysian state news agency Bernama.

The signing of the AJCEP agreement brings to three the number of free trade agreements signed by Asean with a major dialogue partner of the 10-member grouping.

Asean had earlier signed the Trade in Goods and Trade in Services agreements with China and South Korea.

"The three agreements will collectively set the stage for bringing the Asean Plus Three economic cooperation to a higher level," he said in a statement in Jakarta Thursday.

The signing of the AJCEP agreement followed five years of substantive negotiations between the Asean member states and Japan.

It is Asean's first economic partnership agreement that is comprehensive in scope as it covers such fields as trade in goods, trade in services, investment and economic cooperation.

"With AJCEP, we hope to encourage regional cumulation that will benefit Japanese investors like Toyota, Mitsubishi and Sony, which are operating and having huge investments in Asean countries," Surin said.

"As more investors come to Asean through the Free Trade Area, the economic divide among the estimated 693 million people in Asean countries and Japan is expected to be narrowed.

"From 2002 to 2006, the total FDI from Japan in Asean reached $30.8 billion. As a next step to the signing of the AJCEP agreement, Asean member states and Japan will start their respective domestic procedures necessary for entry into force of the agreement," he added in the statement.

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