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US, Asean to sign pact on greater trade, investment access

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): International Trade  

The US was scheduled to sign an agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to allow more trade access to Southeast Asia, while ensuring US intellectual property is better protected in a region infamous for violations, according to a draft text.

The pact - called the Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement, or TIFA, is scheduled to be signed Aug. 25.

US Trade Representative Susan Schwab will represent Washington, while Myanmar’s Commerce Minister Tin Naing Thein is among 10 Asean ministers signing the agreement, according to a copy of the draft obtained by The Associated Press.

The agreement says all parties must “promote transparency and good governance, including by combating and preventing unlawful activities in international trade and investment,” the draft text said.

It said the 10-member Asean and Washington have to recognize “that effective protection of intellectual property rights encourages technological innovation and investment” but did not give specific measures.

Washington has frequently complained that Asean member nations aren’t doing enough to crack down on software and movie piracy. Malaysia, which is also in separate free trade negotiations with Washington, are among several Asian nations on a US watchlist of intellectual property rights violators.

Myanmar’s refusal to speed up democratic reforms and its poor human rights record has previously hindered Asean’s trade ties with Washington, which imposes sanctions on the country, which is also known as Burma.

Malaysian Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz said Wednesday the opaque nation’s political and human rights situations haven’t hindered its participation in Asean’s economic activities.

“We are going ahead together. In the economic sphere, we don’t think politics at all,” she told reporters after annual Asean ministerial talks.

Asean secretary-general Ong Keng Yong said the pact is being called an arrangement, rather than a more formal agreement, to overcome sensitivities toward Myanmar and allow Washington to sign it without congressional approval.

It is a step short of a free trade pact, but facilitates easier movement of trade and investment between Asean and the US.

“It’s basically a tactical move to expedite the process. The loaf may not be as big as we wanted but it’s still a loaf of bread ... it is a good step forward,” Ong said.

Other officials said the agreement will bring in new funds for regional projects and spur investor confidence.

President George W. Bush earlier this month renewed sanctions against military-ruled Myanmar, where pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest.

Asean nations have a policy of not interfering in each other’s affairs, but the group is increasingly frustrated over Myanmar’s slow pace of reforms. However, Asean officials insist continued sanctions imposed by the European Union and the US may not help push Myanmar’s military junta toward democracy.

Friday’s agreement, in part, addresses some of Washington’s concerns over access.

Asean nations remain fiercely protective over their national companies, where foreign entities - at most - are only allowed minority stakes.

Signatories must promote “an open and predictable environment for international trade and investment, while recognizing “the essential role of investment, both domestic and foreign, in furthering economic growth and development,” the draft said. (Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)