BERLIN – The European Union is poised to alter its southeast Asia trade policy to deal with individual members of the ASEAN trade alliance rather than with the bloc as a whole, a senior official said Friday.
The German daily Handelsblatt quoted EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton as saying: “The process with ASEAN up to now has been very slow. We must now check how we can move forward quicker with individual countries that are prepared to do so.”
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed with the EU to launch talks on a regionwide free-trade accord in May 2007.
But progress towards clinching a deal has since moved at a glacial pace due to a myriad of problems including European concerns over human rights violations in ASEAN member Myanmar.
Earlier this month, Indonesia’s trade minister Mari Pangetu said ASEAN countries wanted a bloc-to-bloc free-trade pact but that nations were free to negotiate separate deals with the EU.
“If some countries are going to be approached for bilaterals, that’s another issue … that is their right to do it,” she told AFP in an interview.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
An ASEAN-EU free-trade agreement would cover nearly one billion people, making it one of the world’s largest.
According to IMF figures, trade between the EU and ASEAN countries amounted to over 140 billion euros (190 billion dollars), topped only by China.–Agence France-Presse