The EU wants to strike a free-trade agreement (FTA) with ASEAN, but human rights issues in Myanmar could be a problem, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said yesterday.
He said he would meet later in the week with his counterparts from ASEAN members; Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam who are in Manila for an informal retreat.
"The reason why I want to see closer links between the EU and the ASEAN countries is because I want to persuade European business to look beyond China to the wider opportunities of Asia," Mandelson told a news briefing.
He said there was a need "to bring new focus to our trade relations with ASEAN countries."
A feasibility study for an FTA has already been commissioned and "now we got to see whether we can open up negotiations," Mandelson said.
However, he said there would "always be risks in taking the adventurous course."
Among the likely stumbling blocks to an FTA with ASEAN is the Asian bloc's reluctance to force democratic and human rights changes in Myanmar, which has continued to ignore calls by both the EU and the US to free democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Both have already slapped trade sanctions on Myanmar.
Mandelson said ASEAN and EU ministers should "find a way through" the problem if an FTA is to be signed.
"It will be tragic if other ASEAN countries were to forego economic opportunities and expand trade in the world because of Myanmar's refusal to change for the better," he said.