S'pore calls for restarting EU-Asean trade talks

BERLIN • Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang has called for a resumption of free trade talks between the European Union and Asean, now that problems over Myanmar have been removed, a German newspaper said.

The EU and the 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.

It 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.

Business daily Handelsblatt cited Mr Lim 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.

"I am in favour of the EU and Asean starting negotiations again," it quoted Mr Lim as saying.

EU Ambassador to Singapore Michael Pulch said in July that the EU will do a "stock-take" by the end of this year, on the prospects of an FTA with the South-east Asian bloc. For instance, it will look at why a previous round of negotiations stalled in 2009.

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 today.

Mr 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, Mr 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore calls for restarting EU-Asean trade talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe