Southeast Asian countries hope to sign a treaty early next year to reduce legal impediments to cooperation in the fight against terrorism and cross-border crime, officials said yesterday.
The proposed agreement would be a blueprint for countries to obtain evidence from each other, share bank records and freeze foreign assets of suspects, conduct searches and seizures and simplify procedures for witnesses to testify at trials abroad.
Attorney generals and law ministers from the 10-member ASEAN yesterday wrapped up a three-day meeting on the proposed treaty, which is part of Southeast Asia's drive against terrorism and crimes such as drug trafficking and money laundering.
Malaysian Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail told a news conference that not all ASEAN countries were immediately ready to sign the agreement, but at least seven or eight were likely to do so by early next year.
Abdul Gani said some countries had voiced concerns about aspects of a Malaysian-prepared draft treaty. He did not identify the countries or their concerns, but said officials will meet in Indonesia soon to further discuss the issues.
The accord does not touch on extradition, which Malaysia says is covered by bilateral pacts and existing laws in some countries.
In the regional economy, Japan is willing to provide technical and financial aid to ASEAN countries to help them build oil stockpiles and ensure energy security for the region, a senior official said yesterday.
Yasuo Tanabe, director of international affairs in Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry, said the region was in need of emergency response mechanisms including oil stockpiles.
ASEAN energy ministers are scheduled to meet in Langkawi, Malaysia tomorrow to endorse plans for energy security in the region.
Japan floated the stockpiles proposal when top energy officials and experts from ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea met in the Malaysian capital last month to map out a common strategy on energy security.
Oil from the unstable Middle East region accounts for some 90 percent of imports for Japan, while Asia relies on imported oil for more than two-thirds of its daily needs of more than 21 million barrels.
Tanabe said the Iraq crisis did not disrupt the economic activities of the region because countries like Saudi Arabia compensated for the shortfall, but there was no guarantee that a future crisis would not have a bigger impact.
He said ASEAN countries should have at least a 90-day supply in accordance with International Energy Agency recommendations.
Japan had a 170-day stockpile and South Korea had 100 days, while officials estimated most ASEAN countries had stockpiles of 35 to 40 days only.
Many ASEAN countries are opposed to large stockpiles, however, saying they would be expensive to maintain and are potential targets for terrorist attacks.
The Philippines, an oil importer, is supportive of Japan's plan.
Malaysia, on the other hand is an oil producer and says it is safer for the oil to remain in the ground rather than be stored in an expensive stockpile.