AFP 4 May 2008
ASEAN committed to free trade pact with Australia, NZ: minister
JAKARTA (AFP) - ASEAN was showing strong commitment to try to wrap up negotiations on a free trade pact between the regional grouping, Australia and New Zealand, Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean said Sunday.
Crean, who attended the ASEAN Economic Ministers Closer Economic Relations talks in the Indonesia island of Bali on Saturday, said "we all agreed on the importance of successfully concluding the FTA negotiation in August."
"Considerable work remains. But ministers have given a clear signal to officials that the political will is there to try and achieve a substantial outcome this year," he said in a statement issued by his office.
"Encouragingly, ministers did not identify any issue as being beyond resolution," Crean said of the ongoing ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) negotiations.
Both sides were working on reducing trade barriers to improve market access for goods, services and investment, the statement said.
It gave no further details, but the Australian embassy had earlier cited Sydney’s wishes for a lifting of ASEAN trade barriers on Australian manufacturing and agriculture products as well as services.
Crean said he also held discussions in Bali on the progress of the World Trade Organization’s Doha round of talks, including with US Trade Representative Susan Schwab and Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.
"We are now in the final stages of the Doha negotiations. Challenges still remain. But the fact that countries are genuinely seeking to resolve these difficulties indicates their willingness to conclude the round this year," he said.
The Doha round to reduce trade barriers was launched in the Qatari capital in November 2001 with the aim of reaching a deal by 2004, but has foundered ever since, principally in disputes between developed and developing countries on agricultural subsidies and industrial tariffs.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.