US-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement

Tracking news and information about the proposed US-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement (FTA)

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Bush to push free trade in Asia

Agence France Press - AFP

MANILA - US President George Bush is to step up Washington's initiative to forge bilateral free trade agreements during his visit to Southeast Asia in October, officials say. Bush is expected to launch negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) between Washington and Thailand when he attends a Bangkok summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum on October 20-21, an official of the US-ASEAN Business Council said.

This will spur talks for separate agreements with other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states, council president Ernest Bower told reporters at the annual ASEAN finance ministers meeting. Washington sees its FTA with Singapore, the only one signed with an ASEAN member so far, as a stepping stone to a potential 500 million consumers in Southeast Asia.

"A US-Thailand FTA has a good possibility of being launched in October when President Bush visits Bangkok," said Bower, who is to meet with the finance ministers to push the FTA agenda. "Indications are that Thailand is ready and with the US-Singapore cornerstone already laid and the US-Thailand FTA coming up after that, and hopefully Malaysia, those will highlight the benefits of FTAs politically to the region as well as in the US," he said.

Malaysian International Trade and Industry Minister Rafidah Aziz "has already decided to move forward" with initial negotiations for a US-Malaysia FTA while the Philippines and Indonesia could also consider coming aboard after their presidential elections in 2004, Bower explained. "Once they get their new teams in place after the elections, FTAs with the US will be on the table for both of these countries," he said. "We are pretty optimistic about this. It it a big work agenda but one that US businesses welcome and we are very positive, lobbying hard to move quicker here in Manila (at the ASEAN meeting) and Washington," Bower added.

His council groups top US firms doing business in the 10-member ASEAN, comprising Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The council is conducting a series of joint studies through think-tanks from US and each ASEAN member state to determine the benefits of bilateral free trade arrangements. Bower said the US-Singapore FTA signed in May was expected to add about 20 billion dollars in the next five years in new economic activity between arguably two of the world's most open economies. "That's already pretty incredible so, think about what incremental value you can gain with (other ASEAN) countries with trade barriers that are actually very much an impediment to new investments and new trade." "I think you could see huge numbers in terms of US-ASEAN trade and investment as these FTAs are formed," Bower said.

The Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative announced last year by Bush offers ASEAN members opportunities to sign FTAs with Washington provided they are committed to economic reforms and openness, officials said. The United States is the largest investor in Southeast Asia and the biggest export market for the region. "So we have a lot to gain and a lot to lose if we do or don't stay active in the region," Bower said. US investments in ASEAN so far have risen to 50 billion dollars, according to the US Department of Commerce, but Bower said the "current value" is three times more than that.


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