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EU To Launch FTA Talks With ASEAN Countries

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

28 December 2009

European Union (EU) member states have given the green light for the European Commission to pursue negotiations towards free trade agreements (FTAs) with individual countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

As a first step, the Commission intends to begin negotiations with Singapore early in 2010. With around EUR55bn of bilateral trade, Singapore is the EU's most important trading partner among the ASEAN countries. However, according to a Commission statement, "the door remains open" for other ASEAN countries willing to negotiate a comprehensive FTA with the EU.

EU Trade Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner made the following statement: "Creating new business opportunities for European companies in the dynamic ASEAN countries will strengthen the competitiveness of manufacturers, farmers and service providers in the EU. While we don't lose sight of our ultimate goal of achieving an agreement within a regional framework, I welcome today's decision which will allow us to move forward and re-engage with this important region through negotiations with individual ASEAN member states."

After the US and China, the group of ASEAN countries is the EU's third largest trade partner outside Europe. Trade in goods and services between the EU and ASEAN has grown by more than a quarter between 2004 and 2008, reaching EUR175bn in 2008.

The envisaged FTAs are expected to lower or abolish the currently existing tariff and non-tariff (i.e. regulatory and technical) barriers to trade and investment in many ASEAN markets, so as to further strengthen the EU's commercial ties with the ASEAN region. Creating new export opportunities in the ASEAN markets is a priority under the EU's Global Europe trade strategy.

The Commission had launched negotiations on a region-to-region FTA with ASEAN countries in 2007. However, progress in these negotiations was slow and both sides agreed in March 2009 to make a pause.

The Commission said that the EU remains committed to strengthening its competitiveness through increased market access in ASEAN countries, and EU member states have now asked the Commission to pursue, on a case-by-case basis, negotiations with those individual ASEAN countries showing interest in negotiating comprehensive FTAs bilaterally.

The Commission's ultimate objective, however, remains to reach an agreement with the ASEAN region. "The bilateral agreements could become valuable building blocks towards that objective," it stated.

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