EU to fast-track FTA talks with ASEAN member-states

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (MindaNews/ April 1) The European Union (EU) is expecting to gain some momentum this year with its discussions for bilateral free trade agreements (FTA) with member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as it reiterated its commitment to eliminate various barriers involving the trade exchanges between the two regions.

Karel De Gucht, EU’s commissioner for trade, said Sunday they are currently working on some mechanisms to fast track and ensure an early settlement of the FTA talks with the 10-member regional bloc, which includes the Philippines.

He said their FTA negotiations with Singapore and Malaysia have been progressing and they’re hoping to clinch a settlement agreement soon.

On Saturday, EU and Vietnam agreed during a meeting of senior trade officials here to start their FTA negotiations.

“We hope that we can advance our discussions with our other ASEAN partners in the coming months,” De Gucht said at the opening of the 2nd ASEAN-EU Business Summit at the Hotel Sofitel here.

The Philippines and the EU have yet to start the FTA negotiations despite the signing in June 2011 of their Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA).

EU procedures require that all ASEAN countries sign a PCA as a prerequisite to an FTA.

In February, the EU declared that it was ready to begin the FTA negotiations with the Philippines but the government decided to pursue more consultations first with various stakeholders.

De Gucht reiterated that the EU is ready to begin the talks with the seven other ASEAN countries and work on a comprehensive deal that would later facilitate freer trade exchanges between the two regional blocs.

“(We are committed) to remove all the trade barriers (between EU and ASEAN) so (our) trading and businesses would grow stronger,” he said.

EU officials earlier said the FTA negotiations with the Philippines will move for the elimination of tariffs for a range of products, including tuna.

The Philippines’ canned tuna exports to the EU is currently subject to 24 percent tariff, a rate deemed very disadvantageous to the tuna industry as some of its export rivals such as the African, Caribbean and the Pacific Group of States (ACP) and Andean countries have been

enjoying a zero percent tariff rate.

The EU had implemented a Tariff Rate Quota (TRQ) scheme that allowed the Philippines to export 9,000 metric tons of canned tuna with a 12-percente tariff but the five-year scheme ended in June 2008.

The Philippines had lobbied for the extension of the TRQ scheme but EU had resolved that it would address all trade concerns under the FTA framework.

In a position paper on agribusiness released by the ASEAN-EU Business Council, it cited that the movements of a range of products from Southeast Asia to the EU markets are presently hounded by tariff problems.

“Import duties are imposed to specific goods imported into the EU in order to raise the world market to the EU target price. Duty rates vary between 0 and 16.9 percent across individual products,” it said.

The group also noted that EU import quotas have been restricting the amount of food products from Southeast Asia that enter the European markets.

In terms of vegetables, tropical fruits and fishery products, it cited that exports to the EU from ASEAN were being hindered by food safety issues, quality control and logistical problems.

Such situation necessitates capacity building in research and quality control facilities in ASEAN to handle diseases that limit the production of fruits, poultry and fish products, the group said.

“Greater emphasis on the mandatory implementation of international certification standards is needed in a number of ASEAN countries to meet the food quality requirements of foreign and domestic consumers,” it added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)