World

10 years on, Asean and European Union back at the table for free trade deals

MANILA: The European Union and the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) said yesterday the two blocs will revive plans for a Free Trade Agreement.

The EU and 10-nation Asean launched talks towards a pact in 2007 but abandoned the process two years later, with the EU opting instead to conduct bilateral negotiations with individual states.

Those talks have had mixed success, with deals so far agreed only with Singapore and most recently, Vietnam.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said it was decided among the EU and senior Asean officials yesterday to establish a framework for talks to restart, but there was no time-frame.

"We believe it is important to connect two growing markets and to take away as many obstacles to trade," she told reporters in Manila. "Having a region-to-region agreement between EU and Asean is a long-term goal we've been discussing for many years."

A trade deal with Asean would connect the EU to the world's 7th-largest market, and one with strong consumer and middle-class expansion, particularly in Vietnam and the Philippines, two of the best-performing economies.

The Asean region has a combined 622 million people and economy of $2.6 trillion and is driven largely by consumption, exports and manufacturing, with Europe a key importer of goods.

The initial EU-Asean negotiations were halted in large part due to the complexities of setting common standards among 10 Asean countries with various political systems and stark differences in their economies and populations.

Human rights problems have been an issue with many Asean states, creating obstacles given the EU's requirement to consider human rights in its trade policies.

Asean is loosely modelled on the EU, though it has yet to establish common standards like free movement of goods, capital and labour. - REUTERS

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