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Asean, EU to revisit free trade agreement talks

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Free trade   A meeting between Asean and EU trade ministers

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the European Union will look into resuming their stalled free trade talks after a "stock-taking" meeting at the end of 2015.

The matter was discussed during a meeting between Asean and EU trade ministers in the Malaysian capital where a series of Asean-related events are taking place.

"We agreed that by end of the year, at the senior officials level, there will be a stock-taking meeting to see where is the Asean integration process and where are we on the different bilateral FTA and where did we leave off the last time, identify the difficulties, challenges and priorities and then report to the ministers to see how we take that forward," EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said at a press conference at the end of the meeting.

Asean and the EU had started negotiating for a free trade agreement in 2007. But the talks stalled in 2009 due to Europe's unwillingness to include Myanmar in the discussion over the Southeast Asian country's human rights violation issues as well as the difficulties posed by the developmental gaps among the 10 Asean member states.

Malmstrom avoided mentioning specifics about what could be the stumbling blocks to future FTA talks, merely saying, "Many things have changed in Europe and here (in the Asean region)."

Asean Deputy Secretary-General for Asean Economic Community Lim Hong Hin said the year-end timing is just right to relook at the regional trade pact.

"We have a lot on our plate," he said at the joint press conference, noting that Asean had been preoccupied with various FTA negotiations with countries like China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand as well as the ambitious Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that covers these six countries and the 10 Asean members.

Bilateral trade between the two regions grew 0.8% in 2014 to $248.2 billion. The EU is Asean's second largest trading partner while Asean is the European Union's third largest partner outside Europe.

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