Bangkok Post | 15 September 2008
EU plans two-track approach for FTA
The European Union (EU) under the French presidency will focus on bilateral approaches in parallel with a bloc-to-bloc discussions with Asean on a free trade agreement, according to the French ambassador to Thailand.
Ambassador Laurent Bili said France was very much attached to the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) process and would try to reinforce dialogue and co-operation with Asia in the political and economic spheres at the next ASEM summit in Beijing in October.
With France in the chair, he said, the EU would raise particular subjects on human rights, energy security and combating climate change. It would also seek to intensify discussion on economic, monetary and trade policies with countries in the region to achieve balanced relations based on reciprocity.
He said France would encourage the European Commission (EC) to persist with region-to-region negotiations to establish a free trade agreement (FTA) with Asean, but would also explore bilateral talks with few members such as Brunei, Singapore and Thailand as a way forward.
The EU-Asean talks have moved at a snail’s pace as several EU members felt there were big discrepancies among the economies of the 10 Asean members, making it difficult to implement common rules and regulations, sources have noted.
Burma’s poor human rights records and its defiant military government are concerns for some EU members who were reluctant to see the pariah state at the negotiating table.
Yet Mr Bili remained upbeat, ’’Asean is currently at a key moment of its integration process,’’ he said. ’’The Asean Charter to be ratified by the end of this year under the Thai chairmanship of Asean will be a great achievement. We are also encouraged with development of an Asean community by 2015.’’
EU financial support toward setting up a ’’unique market’’ in the Asean community has been raised to 10 million per year for the next seven years.
The figure excludes bilateral European development aid funds to developing countries in Asean, which amounted to 1.25 billion from 2007-13, the French diplomat said.
Last year, both sides celebrated the 30th anniversary of their relations.
The EU is very keen to facilitate fast-track FTA negotiations with Thailand.
The EU is the second largest destination for Thai exports (14%) outside Asean and after the United States, and the third largest exporter to Thailand after Japan and China and ahead of the US.
However, Mr Bili did not elaborate on whether there would be progress in wider negotiations on a Partnership and Co-operation Agreement, a political and technical co-operation framework on which talks began four years ago.