EU trade chief says Myanmar's poor human rights record could hinder trade pact with ASEAN
- From: "Chim" <ChimS1@xxxxxxx>
- Date: 15 May 2006 07:13:56 -0700
EU trade chief says Myanmar's poor human rights record could hinder
trade pact with ASEAN
By EILEEN NG
MANILA, Philippines (AP) - The European Union is keen to forge a
free-trade pact with Southeast Asia but Myanmar's poor human rights
record could be an obstacle, the EU trade chief said Monday.
Peter Mandelson, who is visiting the Philippines, said he would meet
trade ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Nations, or
ASEAN, on Tuesday to assess a feasibility study for an ASEAN-EU free
But he said the "lack of democracy and abuse of human rights" in
military-ruled Myanmar, which has come under international condemnation
for its refusal to speed up reforms, are stumbling blocks. However, he
pledged not to let talks be derailed because of one country.
"We need to find a way through these problems that enables us to
negotiate for the benefit of many, rather than to be held hostage by
one country. I will be discussing that in due course with my
counterparts in ASEAN," he told reporters.
"I don't want to see the people in Southeast Asia on a whole held back
and unable to tackle the urgent challenge of poverty because of
Myanmar's refusal to change for the better."
Wrangling over Myanmar has held back previous attempts to launch free
trade negotiations between the two groups. The 25-nation EU wants ASEAN
to take tougher action to push Myanmar's military junta to reform.
ASEAN, which has a policy of not interfering in each other's domestic
affairs, pledges to prod Myanmar to speed up democratic reforms and
free all political prisoners, including Nobel Peace laureate Aung San
Suu Kyi. But the bloc says it cannot force Myanmar to introduce
democracy if the country refuses to change.
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962, and the current group
of generals took power in 1988. Suu Kyi, who has spent nearly 10 of the
last 16 years under house arrest, is one of hundreds of political
The EU is one of ASEAN's top trading partners, with bilateral trade
totaling around US$110 billion (92 billion) each year. Mandelson said
he was keen to push through a free trade pact with ASEAN to help
European businesses tap potentials in the region's 530 million people.
"I want to persuade European business to look beyond China to the wider
opportunities of Asia and importantly to bring a new focus to our trade
relations with ASEAN countries," he said.
"At the moment, European horizons are too short... too many business
people in Europe don't know the world in Asia beyond China."
A free trade pact will also benefit ASEAN by opening up market access
to the EU, which is the world's largest market, and bring in more
investment and job creation in the region, he added.
ASEAN groups Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines,
Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Brunei.
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