ASEAN Defers Free Trade Negotiations

Hold on free trade deals was for convenience, not an indication the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations was balking at such accords.

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Southeast Asia's regional bloc would not negotiate any new free-trade deals with any country until it completes such talks with at least six countries and regions, including China, Japan and Australia, an official said Monday.
The deferment was only for convenience and did not mean that the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations was balking at such free trade accords, whose numbers have considerably risen amid an impasse in talks for a global trade deal, Philippine Trade Undersecretary Ramon Vicente Kabigting said.
''It's a pause or a scheduling or a temporary deferment of future FTAs without disengaging,'' Kabigting told reporters on the sidelines of an annual conference of senior ASEAN economic officials.
''We are doing a lot now and our bureaucracies and our constituencies are already quite burdened,'' he said.
ASEAN is separately negotiating free trade deals with its East Asian neighbors China, Japan and South Korea along with Australia, India, and New Zealand. South Korea clinched an accord with ASEAN, except Thailand, covering only goods exchange last year.
Free trade talks between ASEAN and EU could get under way later this year.
ASEAN negotiators were aiming to complete all those talks this year, Kabigting said.
ASEAN trade officials were negotiating with their Japanese counterparts on the sidelines of the 10-member bloc's annual meeting of economic ministers in Manila this week in a bid to finish free trade talks by November. The negotiations started in 2005.
A number of countries, including Turkey and Pakistan, have expressed interest in starting free trade talks with ASEAN in the future, he said.
Kabigting said ASEAN wanted a multilateral World Trade Organization agreement under the ongoing Doha Development Round of talks — named after the Qatari capital where they were launched in 2001.
But he said ASEAN needed to clinch such deals now to bolster trade and investment.
''Well, we cannot wait, business must go on,'' he said.
Some foreign investors, for example, have begun investing in the Philippines on expectation that proposed free-trade deals would bring down tariff and non-tariff barriers and make business more conducive in the country in the near future, he said.
ASEAN's members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — countries ranging from some of Southeast Asia's most affluent to some of its poorest.
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