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EU touts Asean trade accord

EU touts Asean trade accord

The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, called for a “region-to-region free trade agreement”.

However, she did not specifically mention Cambodia in a press conference following the EU-Asean Ministerial Meeting in Belgian capital Brussels on Monday.

The EU and the 10-nation Southeast Asian bloc held talks on Monday to strengthen their “strategic partnership”.

Mogherini, who is also vice-president of the European Commission, said both sides were moving closer to the setting up of a region-to-region Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (Cata), calling it “the first of its kind and a landmark in cooperation”.

She specifically mentioned only the treatment of the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar and the environmental and social impacts of the production of palm oil.

Cambodia was only mentioned in response to questions from journalists.

“We also discussed several other issues of specific interest, either on the EU side or on Asean developments, and most of all, our common agenda from climate change to cybersecurity."

“And the list is so long – we were joking that it could take us a couple of hours to debrief you fully on all the exchanges we have had!” she said.

The EU notified the Kingdom last October that it had launched the process of withdrawing Cambodia’s access to the EU’s preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement for perceived democracy and human rights issues.

The EU has said it is assessing the situation on the ground in Myanmar with regard to the Rohingya issue.

Fielding journalists’ questions, Mogherini said EU-Asean Ministerial Meetings were not set up to discuss issues related to specific countries, but that talks were ongoing on the sidelines.

She reminded reporters that the EU had begun looking into some issues bilaterally with regard to the EBA set-up, which allows least developed countries duty and tariff free imports into the 28-nation bloc.

“So I do not have news for you today. Work is ongoing on a bilateral level and not during EU-Asean ministerial meetings,” she said.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Mogherini would not break the meeting’s tradition of not discussing matters related to specific countries, but he believed the EBA issue would have been discussed with Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn on the sidelines.

Kin Phea, the director-general of the Institute of International Relations at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said it was not necessary for the EU to repeat its position regarding the EBA.

However, he believed the European bloc was working with Cambodia to find a solution as both sides were involved in the talks.

“The concerns of the EU have been considered by the government in order to find a way [for] both sides to share common ground."

“EBA withdrawal is a lengthy [process] because it ultimately requires the green light from all EU member states, not just a few countries or any one group,” he said.

Phea said he had seen improving ties between the EU and Asean as a bloc, but relations between the EU and individual countries needed strengthening.

He said pressure was put on Cambodia and Myanmar over democracy and human rights because the EU’s member states and its ally the US considered themselves “democratic” and needed to be seen to be so.

“The EU echoed the claims [regarding democracy] of a Cambodian opposition group and the US who is their big Western ally."

“So they must continue to make calls consistent with their ally. Therefore, the EU wants to see some change, even though they have seen the real situation in Cambodia,” he said.

He said negotiations between the EU and Cambodia were a way for both sides to save face and everything would later reach a new normal.