Credit by AFP | the 24th Asean Economic Ministers' Retreat in Singapore on March 2, 2018
ASEAN, EU to Talk Up Free Trade Deal amid Growing Protectionism
ECONOMY Beyond

ASEAN, EU to Talk Up Free Trade Deal amid Growing Protectionism

Southeast Asia and Europe pledged Friday to speed up efforts for an elusive free trade deal, vowing to support open markets in the face of growing US protectionism under Donald Trump.

EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said a deal would “send a strong signal to the world” after Trump’s plan to put tariffs on steel and aluminum sparked an outcry among American trade partners, including Europe, AFP reported.

The 28-member European Union and 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations have been discussing a free trade deal for years, first launching talks in 2007 but abandoning them two years later.

Singapore's Trade and Industry Minister (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang shakes hands with European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom as Asean secretary-general Lim Jock Hoi) looks on after concluding the 16th Asean Economic Ministers-European Union Trade Commissioner Consultation meeting in Singapore on March 2, 2018. Image: EPA-EFE
Singapore's Trade and Industry Minister (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang shakes hands with European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom as Asean secretary-general Lim Jock Hoi) looks on after concluding the 16th Asean Economic Ministers-European Union Trade Commissioner Consultation meeting in Singapore on March 2, 2018. Image: EPA-EFE

The two sides last year agreed to put the deal back on the agenda and have been hammering out their positions before the process formally begins.

“These agreements are important in their own right but they are also part of a bigger picture. We see them as building blocks on the way to broader integration,” EU Trade Commissioner Malmstrom said at a forum of Southeast Asian and European business executives in Singapore, as quoted byThe Financial Tribune.

Cambodia’s Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak told the forum that an EU-ASEAN trade deal would be “more beneficial for all of us, especially Cambodia. “I believe that the (free trade deal) negotiations should be re-launched as soon as possible.”

Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry, Lim Hng Kiang, speaks at the event. Image: Nhan Dan Online.
Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry, Lim Hng Kiang, speaks at the event. Image: Nhan Dan Online.

Singapore, which chairs the regional grouping this year, wants to promote innovation, improve digital connectivity, and facilitate e-commerce flows in the region.

It also seeks to improve trade facilitation, deepen the integration of services and investment, and cultivate a regulatory environment conducive to trade and investment.

Deepening ASEAN's ties with external partners is also on the cards.

The Straits Times reports ASEAN's digital economy is tipped to grow to US$200 billion (S$265 billion) by 2025, with e-commerce making up about US$88 billion, a 2016 study by Google and Temasek Holdings found.

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