Reuters reported on Feb 13, 2007 that Southeast Asia's regional bloc and the European Union plan to launch formal negotiations in May for a free trade agreement and hope to close a deal in two years.
This issue was raised during discussions relating to trade, human rights and regional security challenges between Philippine officials and their European counterparts at their biennial meeting in Manila. Both parties agreed that the FTA should be ambitious, balanced and comprehensive.
Because of this, the officials "recognized the need for flexibility" regarding transitional periods in implementing a trade deal, said Ramon Kabigting, Manila’s assistant trade secretary.
With prospects for a new world trade deal still uncertain, Southeast Asian countries have been concerned to sign bilateral agreements to keep pace with fast-growing countries such as China and India.
Last year, European Union trade chief Peter Mandelson said the EU would encourage trading partners to impose labor rights and environmental standards, and he also emphasized for pushing for a free trade pact with ASEAN to help European businesses tap potential in Southeast Asia region.
The EU is one of ASEAN's top trading partners, with bilateral trade totaling Euro 116 billion (U.S.$150.75 billion) as of 2005, EU data showed.