ASEAN leader urges balance in wake of China free-trade pact

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ASEAN General Secretary Surin Pitsuwan says it will be important for ASEAN countries to “maintain a balance” with China while going forward with the China-ASEAN free trade agreement.

“We are not screaming, kicking and saying that we have to protect our own market,” he said in an interview with Thanh Nien Weekly in Da Nang on the sidelines of the ASEAN’s foreign ministers’ meeting that ended last week.

“I have heard some complaints. But overall, members of ASEAN are very committed to go forward and try to help and support those sectors that are not competitive and need to be helped.”

China, the world’s largest exporting economy, would soon become the second-largest economy in the world, he said.

“So it is important for all members of ASEAN to be connected with each other. Of course, some of us are managing the negative effects like goods from China coming to our markets. But we also have our access to the Chinese market and I think overall, we have to strengthen the mechanisms of exchange, mechanisms of cooperation.”

He said that’s what each member state will have to do individually and ASEAN will have to do collectively.

Pitsuwan also noted that China’s investment in ASEAN was still small compared to its trade with ASEAN. “Investment is very small, we have to increase investment in the ASEAN market.

“But China is also helping,” he added, noting that China was engaged in a lot of technical cooperation and technological development support for ASEAN member states. We have to find a balance and I think the best way is to go forward, strengthen our competitiveness and take advantage of it.”

Pitsuwan said the important thing was to make sure that the majority of ASEAN people, not any particular sector, would benefit from the FTA.

The agreement between China and Southeast Asia took full effect on January 1, 2010 liberalizing billions of dollars in trade and investments in a market of 1.7 billion consumers.

Indonesia's trade ministry had sent ASEAN a letter expressing some "difficulties," the Agence France Presse cited Pitsuwan as saying.

But he said there had been "no appeal for any change or any renegotiation" of the landmark pact to establish the world's largest free trade area by population.

China and the six founding ASEAN countries - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand - are to eliminate barriers to investment and tariffs on 90 percent of products under the pact.

Members that joined ASEAN later, including Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, are expected to follow by 2015.

Reported by Minh Hung

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