Nov 8, 2012

Europe - EU eyes more free trade deals with Asian nations

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The European Union (EU) wants to sign more free trade agreements (FTA) with Asian trading partners, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has said.

Speaking at the close of the two-day Asia Europe Summit (ASEM) in Vientiane, Laos, on Tuesday, Barroso said that several EU nations were in negotiations with important trading partners in Asia on new FTAs.

Barroso said that the EU itself was finalising talks on a FTA with Singapore that were expected to be complete by the year's end. The agreement will be the first such trade pact that the EU will sign with an Asean member nation.

Also on the agenda for the EU is finalising an FTA with Japan, the world's third-largest economy.

He said that the FTA signed by the EU and South Korea in 2009 was the most comprehensive partnership for the bloc, as it removed almost all import duties and also covered liberalisation in trade in services.

During the press conference, EU representatives asked Asian nations to avoid protectionist policies and maintain an open trade regime to strengthen trade between the regions.

Barroso said that Europe's open market had benefited from and contributed to economic growth in Asia, which currently counts on the EU as its major destinations for exports.

Asia also accounted for 68 billion euros (US$86.7 billion) of EU exports, or around 25 per cent of the overall total, and was the source of 42 per cent of its overall annual imports, according to reports.

Speaking separately, Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan said that the country would launch negotiations to develop a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) with the EU next month.

A preparatory study on the agreement has already been finished.

"While Europe may place a greater emphasis on trade, we want to go beyond that. We expect closer cooperation in other areas, particularly in investment, tourism and capacity building," Wirjawan told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of the summit.

Indonesia hopes that CEPA will gradually reduce tariffs over a nine-year period by at least 95 per cent and potentially by 100 per cent.

The nation's non-oil and gas exports to the EU were up 19.7 per cent last year to $20.45 billion, while imports jumped 26.9 per cent to $12.40 billion.

The EU invested $2.2 billion in Indonesia in the past year, making the region the second-largest investor in Southeast Asia's largest economy.

In the chair's statement, read at the conclusion of the summit, leaders reaffirmed their commitment to developing an open, fair, transparent and rule-based multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

They leaders also agreed to move forward WTO negotiations to finalise the completion of talks begun during the Doha Round.

Negotiations started during the Doha Round aimed to ease trade barriers around the world to further open global markets, cut agricultural subsidies and enhance the international trading system.

The talks have been deadlocked since 2008 over disagreements between advanced economies, such as the US and European countries, and emerging economies like China and India on agricultural subsidies and industrial tariffs.

Linda Yulisman

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