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Fri, Aug 24, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Lack of resources may lead ASEAN to put talks on hold


Southeast Asia's regional bloc is considering a moratorium on new free-trade talks because ongoing negotiations with six countries have overstretched resources and personnel, officials said yesterday.

Senior economic officials of ASEAN have recommended the moratorium to their trade ministers, who gather in Manila for an annual meeting today, Philippine Trade Secretary Peter Favila said.

ASEAN trade ministers would likely approve the proposal for convenience, but the 10-member bloc would remain open to enter into new free-trade talks as soon they finish ongoing ones, he said.

"We cannot have so much cake on our plate," Favila said. "We don't want a spillover."

ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong said free-trade negotiations with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India, and an upcoming round with the EU, have overwhelmed the bloc's resources and battery of negotiators.

"It's the same guys going to all the meetings," Ong said.

"What we have now would be enough for a whole generation of economic officials," Ong said.

Free-trade deals improve ASEAN's chances of cornering foreign investments that would almost surely go to China and India, Ong said.

ASEAN and Pakistan were jointly studying the feasibility of starting free-trade negotiations, while Chile, Turkey and some Latin American countries have expressed interest, Ong said.

A surfeit of bilateral and regional free-trade deals have emerged across Asia and elsewhere amid an impasse in negotiations for a global trade accord.

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