Arroyo sees closer EU-Asean ties

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo repeated Southeast Asia’s commitment to closer trade and investment cooperation with the European Union as she met the bloc’s incoming president in Lisbon yesterday.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo, chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, discussed the framework of cooperation between the two blocs with Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva, who will head the 25-member EU in a few months’ time.

“Obviously, EU and Asean are not totally the same because there is so much diversity in culture and in economic levels among the Asean member-countries. But as the President herself said, Asean could learn so much from the EU experience,” Bunye said.

“Her visit to Portugal will hopefully set the stage for Asean’s cooperation with that nation as the incoming president of EU, the promotion of Philippine-Portugal bilateral relations, increased trade opportunities, and increased investment from Portuguese companies.”

Bunye said the President would also report to Silva the steps to be taken next by the Asean as it attempted to sign its first charter within the year.

“We are moving toward integration, and it is a step-by-step process that EU is very much interested in since it will spell greater cooperation between the two blocs in the near future,” Bunye said. “First, the charter, which will hopefully be signed this year, and then the free trade [agreement], which is targeted for 2015.”

Bunye admitted that the Asean had suffered setbacks in its move toward integration, such as its failure to pass a deal that would pave the way for a single currency similar to the euro. But he stressed the regional bloc was still in the right direction.

“We have to allow the Asean bloc to mature at its own pace, and eventually forge agreements on a bloc-to-bloc basis with the EU in terms of trade and investment,” Bunye said.

He denied that the issue of the extension of the arrest warrant against Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi was on the agenda during Mrs. Arroyo’s meeting with Silva.

“As a bilateral issue, that is not really high on their agenda, but it will probably be brought up during the Asia-Europe meeting a few months from now,” Bunye said.