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 5 Sep 2008

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Bilateral FTAs in Asean may impede businesses

As countries in Southeast Asia speed up the economic integration drive they are facing some of its toughest challenges in the form of regional diversity and gaps in modernization, reported Singapore’s state news agency Channel News Asia.

The agency quoted analysts as saying at a symposium that the numerous free trade agreements (FTAs) signed by groupings such as Asean and individual Asian nations pose as obstacles to businesses in the region.

They said many overlapping free trade agreements between individual countries actually impede business activities in the region, noting that the agreements create a messy web that can cause difficulties for companies, such as small- and medium-sized firms, trying to expand regionally.

"We have a multitude of overlapping FTAs which we call Asian noodle ball - it can be quite messy,” said Masahiro Kawai, dean of the Asian Development Bank Institute Japan.

He recommended a wider FTA that covers the entire Asian region along the lines of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

"There's obviously the usual problem of envy, lack of political will or some political changes we see in the respective countries. But these are things which are manageable, as long as they don't boil over," said former Asean secretary general Ong Keng Yong.

















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