European Union, Southeast Asia launch free-trade talks
The European Union and Southeast Asia have agreed to launch free-trade talks and embark on one of the world's largest regional trade negotiations.business Updated: May 04, 2007 14:23 IST
The European Union and Southeast Asia agreed on Friday to launch free-trade talks and embark on one of the world's largest regional trade negotiations.
The EU spans 27 nations and 490 million people while the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is home to around 560 million people. Trade between the two groups stood at around $140 billion in 2005, according to ASEAN data.
"I think it has a huge potential not just to deepen economic ties between us but to grow international trade as a whole and make an important boost to the global economy," European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson after a meeting with ASEAN trade ministers in the tiny kingdom of Brunei.
Neither he nor ASEAN ministers gave a time-frame for the negotiations, but Malaysian Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz said the two sides would assemble a joint panel of senior trade officials to draft a schedule and programme for talks.
"This will be the most wide-ranging negotiation ASEAN has started," ASEAN secretary-general Ong Keng Yong said.
"It is very broad in scope, and very deep, as well."
As it scrambles to fend off competition from giant neighbours India and China, ASEAN is aiming for internal economic integration by 2015 and is spinning a web of trade ties to foster growth.
EU-ASEAN free trade would boost trade and investment by up to 10-18 per cent each way, Ong said, quoting an ASEAN study.
The EU ranked with the United States and Japan among the group's top three investors, he said. "Cumulatively, their investments in the region are very substantial, however it's still behind the US and Japan," Ong added.
ASEAN has declared itself a free-trade area but has yet to forge a free-trade agreement as a bloc with any external trade partner. It is negotiating free-trade pacts with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
The United States, the region's largest trade partner, has signed a trade and investment arrangement with ASEAN but free-trade talks are still seen as a long way off. ASEAN has also begun exploring the possibility of similar ties with Canada.
(Additional reporting by Mark Bendeich)