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Nation: Asean, EU aim for better ti

Subject: Nation: Asean, EU aim for better ties despite Burma

Local & Politics 
Asean, EU aim for better ties despite Burma
ASEAN and the European Union (EU) are determined to forge closer understanding
and economic cooperation to reflect a ''partnership for progress'' despite
differences over the issue of Burma when Asean and EU officials meet today for
the first time in two years. 
The Asean-European Commission Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting begins
today, with Burma's presence, to review cooperation activities in the field of
economics and development, and will not deal with political matters. 
The JCC meeting has been delayed for almost a year amid wrangling over the
status of Burma, with the EU refusing to meet the generals from Rangoon on
equal terms. 
Ambassador Michel Caillouet, head of the European Commission, said the JCC
consider work programmes for future cooperation in economics, industry and
business, energy, narcotics, trade, investment, science, technology,
environment, education and training. 
The 13th Asean-EC JCC meeting will benefit 15 EU members and seven Asean
members who are signatories of the 1980 European Economic Community
Cooperation Agreement, he said. 
The JCC meeting will help enhance mutual understanding and strengthen the new
dynamism in relations. 
Asean and the EU agreed to resume the four-day meetings after a lengthy
diplomatic dispute over the presence of Burma, which was at the heart of the
controversy because of its repressive regime and poor human rights record. 
Thailand had intensely lobbied to get the meeting under way to help boost the
sluggish economy dampened by the 1997 economic crisis. Credit is to be
given to
Thai senior officials and Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan for their efforts to
get Asean and the EU back on track to discuss cooperation matters. 
Although, a compromise was finally reached in March on the presence of Burma,
the history of the past two years to get the long-stalled meeting back on
was significant. It reflects the EU's position against Burma because not only
was the meeting twice postponed but an Asean-EU foreign ministers meeting in
Berlin earlier this year was also cancelled. 
The Asean-EU relationship goes back a long way, with the two having built
up an
extensive network of commercial, economic and political relations over the

two decades. 
The relationship began as early as 1973 when the EEC and Asean formed informal
relations. In 1977, the relationship was formalised when the EC became an
dialogue partner and was invited to attend the first Asean Post-Ministerial
Conference, a forum for an exchange of views on international and regional
issues, as well as economic and trade issues. 
The first Asean-EC Ministerial Meeting in Brussels in 1978 resulted in the
decision to open negotiations for a cooperation agreement. After the second
meeting in Kuala Lumpur the 1980 EEC-Asean Cooperation agreement was signed.
The JCC was established as the main institution to realise the agreement
and the JCC is supposed to meet every 18 months. 
The preamble to the EEC-Asean agreement, besides highlighting the development
of social, economic and cultural ties, also focusses on the development of the
human and material resources of the two parties on the basis of freedom,
equality and justice. 
The relationship of the two have grown from one of recipient-donor to that of
equal partnership. 
While both sides struggle to foster a new partnership status, they also differ
significantly on the issue of human rights. 
At the Karlsruhe meeting in 1994, both camps emphasised their common
to the promotion of and respect for human rights, and fundamental freedoms in
accordance with the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration on
Human Rights. However, they differ significantly over the importance of civil
and political rights as compared to economic, social and cultural rights. 
While the EU places great importance on classical individual rights, based on
the principles of the French and American revolutions, Asean countries see
collective values as taking precedence over individual rights, and economic
development over civil and political rights. To Asean, this will be so until
poverty has been eradicated. 
The EU understands that economic development leads to improved human rights,
but maintains that individual rights and fundamental freedom cannot be

Thus Burma is one of the regional issues, other than that of East Timor, which
divides Asean and the EU. 
The picture looks brighter on the economic front with the EU ranking third
among Asean's trading partners. Trade between the two has steadily grown, with
Asean enjoying a trade surplus. 
The total trade volume between Asean and EU is about 14 per cent of Asean's
total trade. In 1980, total trade volume was US$1.7 billion, but in 1998 it
increased to more than US$3.8 billion. 
Asean's exports to the EU last year were worth US$2.13 billion while its
imports were US$1.701 billion. Asean has enjoyed a trade surplus since 1986. 
A senior Thai official said the EU has been active in providing Asean with
economic and developmental assistance. Since 1991, EU has provided more than
Bt3 billion in technical assistance and has implemented 31 cooperation
with 17 others ongoing. 
The Nation