The European Union on Tuesday decided to launch talks on free-trade deals with members of the Association of South- East Asian Nations (ASEAN), starting with Singapore. The move comes after trade talks with ASEAN as a group stalled in 2009, and marks a new attempt to open up business between Europe and Asia as the world moves out of economic crisis.
The EU’s executive, the European Commission, “has received the green light to open free-trade talks, on an individual basis, with the states of ASEAN. As a first stage, the commission intends to open talks with Singapore at the start of 2010,” a press release issued in Brussels said.
Trade between the EU and ASEAN reached a value of 175 billion euros (250 billion dollars) in 2008, making ASEAN the EU’s third- biggest trading partner after the United States and China. EU trade with Singapore totalled 55 billion dollars.
“This represents a milestone in Singapore’s relationship with the EU, with whom we have robust and long-standing economic ties,” Singapore’s Trade and Industry Ministry said.
Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang said: “It demonstrates the importance of this region. Singapore is keen to see a high quality agreement that includes substantial liberalisation across a wide range of areas.”
Free-trade talks between the blocs opened in 2007, but ground to a halt in March 2009 as negotiators wrangled over key points.
However, EU member states were keen to push for access to the fast-growing Asian markets. They therefore called for the negotiation of individual free-trade deals with each of the ASEAN states.
The EU includes key players such as Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.