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Asean to resume FTA talks with EU after AEC in place, says chief

Asean is planning to resume free-trade talks with the European Union after its 2015 integration, as every country in the trade bloc is ready for more market liberalisation with developed countries, Asean chief Le Luong Minh said.

Speaking at the sixth "Delhi Dialogue", the Asean secretary-general told The Nation that the 10-member group should be able to resume FTA talks with the EU after next year's birth of the one-market Asean Economic Community.

At present, some Asean countries have negotiated individual FTAs with the EU, including Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. But Minh believes that the other countries should be prompted to be more committed through the AEC.

"Currently, Asean is too busy moving towards a single market under the 2015 target," he said. "But after the AEC has been achieved, then we should be ready for tighter cooperation with others, and the FTA negotiation with the EU is one of the top priorities after 2015."

Minh said that although it was a different playing field between Asean and EU countries, it should not obstruct the talks or have a negative impact on Asean countries, as an FTA between the two regions should help increase development and cooperation. He said Asean would focus on cooperation and eliminating barriers to promote more trade and investment. The EU is not considered a competitor, so the FTA should help promote more trade and economic growth.

FTA talks with the EU began in 2006 but because of concerns, including the internal politics of some Asean members, several Southeast Asian countries decided to ink separate agreements.

The secretary-general said that after 2015 Asean should be focused more on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which would be one of the world's largest FTAs and consist of Asean and six key trading partners. They are China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Minh believes the internal political situation in some Asean countries, including the tension in Thailand, should not be an obstacle to the partnership. He said negotiations for the Asean-India FTA, which largely covers trade in services and investment, were completed but the agreement had not been signed because of the situation in Thailand, while Malaysia and Indonesia would soon have general elections.

However, the Asean blueprint and plan to move towards a single market in 2015 would proceed.


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