Saturday, May 7, 2011

EU to negotiate FTA with all ASEAN countries, except Myanmar

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Sat, 05/07/2011 11:16 PM | World

The European Union is looking forward to engaging in free trade agreements with ASEAN member nations. EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht talked to The Jakarta Post’s Sita Winiawati Dewi and other reporters in Jakarta on Friday.

What is the progress of FTA negotiations with Indonesia?

With Indonesia, the idea last year was to have a Vision Group to assemble a report, and they have come up with their report and it will be officially presented in June in Europe. All we are waiting for are signatures from Indonesia to start the official scope exercise and subsequent negotiations. I think we have made very good progress. I don’t want to put a date on it because of the responsibility of our Indonesian counterparts. It’s up to them.

Would that be a region-to-region approach or region-to-country approach. How does it work?

We started the negotiations with ASEAN as a bloc, but we had to stop this for two main reasons. There’s a very different level of development in each of the countries, which has made negotiations very difficult.

Secondly, because of Myanmar. But even if we were to negotiate under present circumstances, region-to-region, in practice, it would be largely a discussion with each individual country, because there is no common external tariff, custom union nor internal market, which means that in any case, you would have different arrangements from one country to another. We are now negotiating to take care so that all of these negotiations have the same backbone. That’s one of the discussion [points] with Vietnam. We want them to agree on the level of ambitions that coincide with a common backbone. Once we have completed these negotiations with all of the individual member states interested in doing so, there’s where the economic community comes about. I think that would be the right moment to move into the region-to-region approach.

The whole ASEAN region has poor human rights and democracy track records. Some members are stuck, or even moving backwards. So why is Myanmar singled-out, and do you think this problem could be overcome?

First of all, I wouldn’t say that the only country that has been shaved from the region-to-region approach is Myanmar. That is certainly not true. I would say that if you were to continue a bloc-to-bloc [approach], it would take years. You would be better to take it one after another to achieve practical results. There is not only the link to Myanmar. That is not true. What is true is that the Myanmar topic is extremely sensitive in Europe. But we are also open to changes. For example, there has been a recent election and there also has been the freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi. We have reacted by softening some of the sanctions. We are ready to be reactive to positive developments in that country. But much more should be done. And by the way, I believe ASEAN is playing a positive role by putting pressure on Myanmar to walk in the right direction. Now, as you say there are human rights problems in some of these countries, I don’t want to single out any one. We are going to address it in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and also in the Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which are political angles in these kinds of agreements. And we have the policy that a PCA comes before the FTA, or at least simultaneously.

Would the EU negotiate one-by-one until the tenth country? Would there be a limitation on the number of countries that will negotiate with the EU?

We negotiate with any country that asks us to negotiate. I think it’s clear that in the moment we would not be ready to engage FTA negotiations with Myanmar. There’s no certain limitation and I hope that limitations will disappear. But for now, if Myanmar were to ask us to negotiate on a free trade agreement, we would say no.