Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MEDIAWATCH

No strategy and a beige suit

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 29 August 2014 (part 2)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 29 August 2014

Read more

ENCORE!

Alain Choquette: A Hilarious Magician in Paris

Read more

FOCUS

France welcomes Iraqi Christian refugees

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Emmanuel Macron: A new economy minister with a pro-business agenda

Read more

THE OBSERVERS

More of this year's best Observers stories

Read more

#TECH 24

Changing the world, one video game at a time

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Socialist Party summer conference kicks off in explosive atmosphere

Read more

  • Exclusive: Fabius warns of further sanctions against Russia

    Read more

  • Experimental Ebola drug ‘ZMapp’ heals all monkeys in study

    Read more

  • British killer escapes from French psychiatric hospital

    Read more

  • Ukraine to relaunch NATO membership bid

    Read more

  • Police hunt for British boy with brain tumour taken to France

    Read more

  • Chelsea’s Torres set for AC Milan switch

    Read more

  • France shines in IMF list of world’s promising economists

    Read more

  • Mapping Ukraine: Canada and Russia in ‘tweet for tat’ row

    Read more

  • First case of Ebola confirmed in Senegal

    Read more

  • Obama has 'no strategy yet' on potential Syria strikes

    Read more

  • Netflix to woo French with ‘House of Cards’ set in Marseille

    Read more

  • French businesses ‘hoping for a new Thatcher’

    Read more

  • Syrian refugees surpass 3 million, UN says

    Read more

  • West backs Ukrainian claims of Russian incursion

    Read more

  • Libyan PM resigns as Islamists set up rival administration

    Read more

  • UN says 43 peacekeepers captured in Golan Heights

    Read more

  • The deleted tweets of Manuel Valls

    Read more

  • Peru seizes record 6.5 tonnes of Europe-bound cocaine

    Read more

  • Pakistan army to mediate between PM, protesters

    Read more

  • In pictures: Billions of locusts invade Madagascan capital

    Read more

Asia-pacific Asia-pacific

Free trade deal opens Asian market to Australia, NZ

Latest update : 2009-02-27

After four years of negotiations, Australia and New Zealand have signed a free trade agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The deal gives both countries access to a market of nearly 600 million people.

AFP - Southeast Asian ministers signed a major free trade deal with Australia and New Zealand on Friday as they opened a summit focused on shielding the region from the global economic meltdown.

While ministers also discussed the plight of refugees from military-ruled Myanmar and plans to form a human rights body, their annual gathering is being dominated by efforts to shore up their export-driven economies.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean and New Zealand counterpart Tim Groser signed the trade deal along with ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after negotiations lasting nearly four years.

"This agreement is a significant agreement for the region," Crean told a press conference after the signing.

The pact is the most comprehensive ever signed by ASEAN, which has a combined gross domestic product of 1.4 trillion dollars, and gives Australia and New Zealand access to a market of nearly 600 million people.

"It powerfully demonstrates... the region's strong commitment to opening up markets in the face of this crisis.

"This will keep trade flows open in the region, increase growth and give a much-needed boost to confidence," he added in a statement.

As leaders of the regional grouping began to arrive in the Thai beach resort of Hua Hin for their three-day summit, they gave mixed signals on the region's attitude to economic protectionism.

"We must not resort to protectionist tendencies at trying times," Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in a speech to business leaders.

But Malaysian premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in an interview with the Bangkok Post that it was a "normal reaction" to urge people to buy local goods during times of crisis.

Over the weekend, leaders are expected to sign a declaration on a roadmap for forming a European Union-style community by 2015, following the signing of the group's landmark new charter last December.

ASEAN is starting to feel the effects of the global economic crisis, with its financial hub Singapore facing its worst recession since independence and other nations, including Thailand, sliding in the same direction.

Friday's trade signing is part of a raft of measures mooted by the organisation to ride out the global economic crisis, including a 120-billion-dollar emergency fund agreed on by finance ministers last Sunday.

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said the group wanted the fund to be set up before its leaders meet with their Chinese, Japanese and South Korean counterparts from April 10-12.

That meeting was originally due to take place in December alongside the summit, but both were postponed because of political turmoil in Thailand and the three economic giants have stayed away from this weekend's summit.

ASEAN also faces its perennially tricky problem of human rights at the summit, especially the failure to use its influence to stop abuses by Myanmar's military junta.

Critics have already warned that a planned human rights body being set up under ASEAN's new charter risks being powerless if it is based on a limited mandate and policy of non-interference in the affairs of member states.

"From what we understand... principles of non-interference will be enshrined in the terms of reference," Yap Swee Seng, executive director of the Bangkok-based Asia Forum, told AFP.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch earlier urged ASEAN to press Myanmar's generals to end rights violations, including the treatment of the Muslim Rohingya boat people.

The poverty-stricken Rohingyas hit the headlines earlier this year when Thai security forces allegedly abandoned hundreds of the migrants at sea.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
 

Date created : 2009-02-27

COMMENT(S)