EU pushes for speedier FTA with ASEAN

By NNN-Bernama,

Kuala Lumpur : The European Union (EU) has called on members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean), including Malaysia, to speed up efforts in negotiating for the free trade agreement (FTA) between the two blocks.

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Its Ambassador/Head of the Delegation of the European Commission to Malaysia, Vincent Picket, said 18 months after the start of negotiations and six rounds of talks later, “we need to soberly recognise that we are not where we had aimed and hoped to be.”

“Discussions have not yet moved to market access commitments and in several areas we are still at the exploratory level,” he told reporters after opening the Malaysia-EU Trade Forum hosted by the EU-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry here Wednesday.

Parallel to the multilateral trade agenda between Asean and the EU, he said, Malaysia and the EU were also pursuing the bilateral trade negotiations.

He said in 2007 the Asean and EU ministers of economy and trade agreed to establish a comprehensive FTA to provide for mutual trade and investment liberalisation.

Picket said the agreement should remove tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade in goods and services.

“It should improve market access for investments and should cover trade-related issues such as intellectual property rights, competition rules and sustainable development,” he said.

He said it was clear “enough (that) we are living in difficult economic times.”

“I understand all countries in the world, including Malaysia, and the EU have to take an active approach to make sure the economy will continue to grow and rebound.

“So what I am proposing from the EU side is to work doubly hard on the free trade negotiations between the EU and Asean countries, including Malaysia, because we know the companies expect the results from us as trade creates new opportunities for them,” he said.

The EU Ambassador said euro-zone economy was in recession now.

“We are going through a difficult moment. On the EU side, we are doing everything we can to put in place the economic stimulus package to keep the economy going.

“We are investing in innovations, transport, energy and environment. It will have an impact on trade evidently but with the stimulus package and trade negotiations, we hope to minimise that effect,” he said.

Piket said the EU would contact its Asean partners to see “when we can meet again for the next round of talks”.

It was earlier scheduled that the next discussion will be March 2009.

In between, he said, there would be many technical consultations.

“For us, given the economic situation we have to redouble our efforts and call on Malaysia and other Asean countries to do the same,” he said.

What is clear, according to Piket, is that by opening trade between Asean countries, including Malaysia, and the European Union “we can make a difference.”

He said experts had estimated that a comprehensive FTA would boost Asean exports to the EU by 18 percent.

“The economic crisis gives our negotiations a new urgency. We have to go faster to make sure the FTA give the stimulus that our economies need,” he said.

Earlier, in his speech, Piket said the EU would naturally look to Malaysia to give the process a push.

“Malaysia accounts for almost one quarter of the Asean exports to the EU.

“It is one of our largest trade partners in Asean. From a business operator’s point of view it will be difficult to understand if Malaysia was not among the leading group in the FTA negotiations.

“So let’s work on that and live up to the expectations of firms and investors here in Malaysia and the EU,” he said.