21st Feb 2019

EU to re-open South-Asian trade talks

  • The EU will re-open talks with the ASEAN trade bloc, trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said Sunday. (Photo:

The EU is prepared to reopen trade negotiations with the Asean trade bloc of South-Asian countries, the bloc’s trade chief said ahead of a summit on Monday (27 April).

Speaking on the eve of a summit with South-Asian leaders in Kuala Lumpur, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters that the EU was "committed to have a region-to-region free-trade agreement."

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"It is important that we get it right and that is why we proposed this roadmap, a stock-taking event by the end of the year," she added.

The ten Asean countries will merge into a single trading bloc at the end of 2015, increasing the pressure on Brussels to secure a region-to-region agreement.

In the meantime, the South-Asian bloc has moved forward with plans for a trans-pacific partnership (TPP) agreement with the United States. The twelve-nation TPP agreement was struck in 2014 and has begun its passage through the US Congress.

Both the US and the EU see trade deals with the South-Asian countries as a powerful counterweight to China's growing economic power.

The EU is the Asean bloc’s second-largest trading partner with total trade amounting to over €200 billion in 2013, according to the European Commission, which states that the EU also makes up more than 20 percent of trade inflows into Southeast Asia.

The EU concluded a trade deal with Singapore in 2013 and is close to completing one with Vietnam.

The commission has also started talks with Malaysia and Thailand, as it seeks to reach trade pacts with the Asean bloc. Negotiations between the EU and Malaysia opened in 2007 but stalled after the seventh round in April 2012.

“There’s no point getting bogged down in the same issues for a second time,” Malmstrom said. “If we want a result that is truly ambitious, and truly effective, both Malaysia and the EU must be ready to contribute across the board.”

The EU will expect Malaysia to respond to its expectations concerning tariffs, services, intellectual property rights and public procurement, Malmstrom told local media over the weekend.

“I believe in the general principle that open public procurement markets allow governments to buy the best goods and services at the best prices. But I also understand that this is sensitive, and that it relates to one of the core issues of Malaysian politics.”

At the weekend, Malmstrom said that the EU will appoint a dedicated ambassador to the ASEAN community, and would provide €170 million in support for the bloc’s economic integration programme over the next seven years.

For its part, the EU-Asean Business Council (EU-ABC) put forward its recommendations to Asean Economic Ministers on Saturday (25 April), saying more can be done to improve the commercial, trade and investment environment between the two regions.

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