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The Nation-Asean, EU aim for better

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

The Nation May 24, 1999.
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

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
will 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
(EEC)-Asean 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

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 track 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 past 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 Asean 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
itself 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
commitment 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
projects with 17 others ongoing.


The Nation