Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Free-trade agreement with ASEAN: conditional backing from Trade Committee
However, say MEPs, the agreement must meet certain conditions regarding sustainable development, the fight against fraud and respect for human rights. The report, drafted by Glyn Ford (PES, UK) and adopted by an overwhelming majority, supports plans for a free-trade agreement with ASEAN subject to WTO rules and the outcome of the Doha development round. MEPs voice concern at the slowness of the negotiations launched in April 2007, believe that it should be possible to suspend preferential custom tariffs granted under the agreement if key points of the partnership and cooperation agreement are violated, in particular the human rights clauses. Sustainable development The planned agreement should ask the ASEAN countries to ratify and apply the basic conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), according to the EP report. MEPs particularly emphasise the need to ban child labour and forced labour. Measures to combat the destruction of tropical forests should also be included in the agreement, says the report. The ASEAN countries who try to stem the illegal exploitation of forests should be supported, say MEPs, who also want to give preference to environmentally-friendly biofuels and cut customs tariffs on environmental and/or fair-trade products. Intellectual property rights and the anti-counterfeiting measures The report highlights the need to observe intellectual property rights (IPR), especially for models and designs, sound recordings and other cultural goods, as well as the fight against the counterfeiting of drugs and medicines. It also calls for protection of and respect for geographical indications and labels of origin, as well as more transparency in the award of public contracts, state aid and other subsidies. Burma "The current situation in Burma makes it impossible for that country to be included in the agreement", argues the Trade Committee's report. At joint hearing held in early April by the EP Development Committee and Human Rights Subcommittee, the EU was urged to target better its sanctions on the Burmese junta. Least developed countries The report also stresses the situation of the least developed countries (LDCs) in the region: Cambodia, Laos and Burma. At present the Commission's negotiating mandate does not provide for negotiations with the LDCs. If these countries wished to join the free-trade agreement with the EU, the Council would have to revise the mandate it has given the Commission. For the other poorer countries who are members of ASEAN but do not belong to the LDC group, the report urges flexible arrangements - more or less equivalent to those envisaged in economic partnership agreements (EPAs) - to enable these countries to cope with the loss of customs revenue. Banking secrecy A resolution to the problem of banking secrecy in Singapore is "essential if there is to be a real prospect of a region-to-region [free-trade agreement]", argues the report. Lastly, MEPs point out that, since the Lisbon Treaty is due to enter into force before the end of the negotiations, the approval of the European Parliament will be needed once the negotiations are completed. The members of ASEAN are: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Source : European Parliament
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