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Singapore minister calls for resumption of EU-ASEAN free trade talks - report

Reuters Business News

29 December 2015

Singapore minister calls for resumption of EU-ASEAN free trade talks - report

Berlin/Singapore’s trade and industry minister has called for a resumption of free trade talks between the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations now that problems over Myanmar have been removed, a German newspaper said.

The EU and 10-nation ASEAN launched free trade talks in 2007, but abandoned them two years later, with the EU choosing instead to conduct bilateral talks with individual members.

The EU has accords with Singapore, Vietnam and South Korea and last week the EU and the Philippines agreed to start free-trade talks next year as Europe attempts to tap into Asia’s faster economic growth.

The business daily Handelsblatt cited the minister, Lim Hng Kiang, as saying that negotiations could restart because the problem of the EU not wanting to do business with the generals of Myanmar’s military dictatorship had been removed due to changes there.

"I am in favour of the EU and ASEAN starting negotiations again," the newspaper quoted Lim as saying in an advance extract of an interview due to be published on Wednesday.

Myanmar has been ruled by a quasi-civilian government since 2011 following five decades of military rule and has been widely praised for ushering in economic and political reforms.

ASEAN formally established an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) at its annual summit last month, aiming to create a single market with few barriers to the flow of trade, capital and professional labour in an area of 625 million people. The AEC is due to come into being on Dec. 31.

Lim urged other ASEAN nations to style themselves on the EU to integrate the AEC, the newspaper said. Unlike in the EU, there is no authority in ASEAN which can enforce agreements between countries, Lim was cited as saying.

But he warned against making the same mistakes as the EU, saying the bloc had gone too far with centralisation, bureaucracy and handing over sovereignty.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Richard Balmforth)