Europe-PH News

EU Renews Interest In Regional Deal

April 27, 2012

Kathleen A Martin Patria

Europe-PH News

The European Union has expressed renewed interest in forging a regional trade deal with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), encouraged by democratic reforms being experienced in Myanmar.

“The remarkable transformation that is under way in Myanmar will further strengthen EU-ASEAN relations,” Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, said in a statement released ahead of the two-day EU-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting that ends today.

The EU in 2007 sought talks for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with ASEAN, but the 27-nation bloc bypassed Myanmar due to its snail-paced reforms and proceeded to negotiate deals with other ASEAN members.

With recent developments in Myanmar, including the historic election of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and some colleagues to parliament, the EU on Monday announced a one-year lifting of economic sanctions over a dismal human rights record.

The situation will be further enhanced by an expected visit of the EU official to Myanmar.

“I will make my first visit to the country immediately after the Ministerial to launch a new phase in EU-Myanmar relations,” Ms. Ashton said.

In addition, ASEAN’s efforts towards integration by 2015 will help cement an FTA with the EU.

“We welcome the considerable progress made by ASEAN towards its integration goals, which promote peace and prosperity and will create large commercial opportunities,” Ms. Ashton said.

“The conclusion of FTAs with our ASEAN partners -- with a region-to-region FTA ultimately in perspective -- will remove impediments to doing business and increase investment,” she added.

Sought for comment, George N. Manzano, economist at the University of Asia and the Pacific, said a EU-ASEAN trade deal will benefit even individual members.

“ASEAN will have more bargaining powers compared to the negotiating positions of individual members,” Mr. Manzano said in a phone interview.

For the Philippines, he said a region-to-region deal will mean greater access to the EU market, as it will reduce competition with other countries in the region.

“The EU has close colonial ties with African countries and a regional deal will improve our position against these countries,” he said.

Meanwhile, the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) said it welcomed increased interest in FTAs in the ministerial meeting.

“We have been pushing for an FTA for many years and are happy that things are finally moving,” ECCP president Hubert d’Aboville said in a statement yesterday.

“There is no question it will lead to increased trade in both directions and more European investments in the Philippines,” Mr. d’Aboville said.

ASEAN groups the Philippines, Myanmar, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The EU is the region’s third largest trading partner after China and Japan, accounting for 11% of ASEAN trade. -- K. A. M. Patria

Source: Business World; The Economy; 27 April 2012


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