The Sun Daily, The Star and The New Straits Times and The Sun Online 23 August 2015

KUALA LUMPUR: The creation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) is important as it will serve as a common denominator for trade negotiations with external parties such as the European Union (EU).

Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) Chief Executive Officer Wan Saiful Wan Jan said however, regional trade negotiations, would be challenging.

“This is due to the economic disparity between member countries and the need to level up economic development within them. We need to sort out what is happening within the region.

“At the same time, if there are countries already at the level where they can negotiate with the EU, I think they should not allow the slower reform in others to prevent them from doing so,” he told Bernama.

Asean and the EU had agreed to resume stalled talks on a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two regions from earlier this year with officials of both regions meeting towards year end to explore the way forward.

The 10-member Asean and the EU launched negotiations in 2007, but broke it off in 2009, amid disagreements largely centering on European concerns over Myanmar’s human rights record.

The EU is already holding separate talks on potential FTAs with other Asean members, namely Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.

The European bloc concluded an agreement with Singapore in December 2012.

“There will be a lot of challenges and compromises that need to be made. I just hope that if we do negotiate an Asean-EU FTA, we will not have to dilute it to the lowest common denominator,” Wan Saiful said.

When asked if Asean is ready for economic integration, he said it should be seen as the starting point of a journey towards further integration and not as an ultimate aim.

“The AEC is supposed to be quite a big change to the region. It will be much better if we agree that by the beginning of next year, we will have free movement of labour throughout the region,” he added.

At the same time, Wan Saiful also hoped to see the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) coming into conclusion within the next few weeks, adding, thereafter, the EU-Malaysia FTA negotiations can continue.

In 2014, Asean was the EU’s third largest trading partner outside Europe, after the US and China, with more than €179.2 billion (RM853 billion) in trade in goods and services. – Bernama

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