Fri, Nov 23, 2007 - Page 5 News List

ASEAN, EU leaders endorse plan to enhance trade links


ASEAN and EU leaders endorsed a five-year plan to enhance security and trade ties yesterday and urged Myanmar's military junta to speed up democratic reforms and release Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

After three days of debate over Myanmar among Asian leaders, who were in Singapore for annual political and trade summits, members of ASEAN turned to negotiations with the EU to conclude a five-year action plan and continue negotiations on a free trade agreement.

But the actions of Myanmar -- accepted into ASEAN in 1997 -- still occupied much of the agenda.

A joint declaration by both sides called for the release of political detainees and the "early lifting" of restrictions on political parties in Myanmar.

During discussions between trade ministers of the two blocs, both sides confirmed Myanmar would not be excluded from negotiations for a free-trade agreement between the 10 ASEAN countries and 27 EU countries.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong insisted the region must move beyond the debate over Myanmar.

"While Myanmar is a significant issue, relations between ASEAN and EU should not be held hostage by it," he said.

Questions had been raised about whether the EU would try to block Myanmar from inclusion in the free-trade talks after its junta crushed pro-democracy protests in September, killing at least 15 people.

EU foreign ministers on Monday approved several additional sanctions against Myanmar, including a ban on the imports of timber, gemstones and precious metal. The new sanctions come on top of an existing travel ban on Myanmar officials, an arms embargo and a freeze on Myanmar assets in Europe.

Preliminary negotiations with the EU over a free trade pact started in May and are set to conclude in late 2009.

The ASEAN and the EU action plan covers political and security cooperation, trade and investment, sustainable development of mineral resources, as well as the advancement of science and technology. The pact also resolves to address climate change.

Lee said it would take ``a lot of creative work'' to conclude the free trade agreement by 2009.

ASEAN has free trade agreements with China and is inking pacts with Japan and India.

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