Myanmar: ASEAN-EU meeting marks new chapter

Updated On: Apr 27, 2012

Foreign ministers at the 19th ASEAN EU Ministerial Meeting in Brunei hailed the EU's lifting of sanctions in Myanmar, marking what some see as a new chapter in the history of engagement between the two regional blocs.

According to a statement of the European Commission, 150 million euro's of assistance is now being put on the table, which is meant to support various development sectors such as health, education, agriculture and aid to uprooted people.

Myanmar was often a thorn in the side of EU-ASEAN relations over the years, as ASEAN continue to pursue a policy of engagement with the country.

The EU has rewarded "historic changes" in Myanmar by suspending a wide range of trade, economic and individual sanctions on the country, though it has left intact an arms embargo.

"The remarkable transformation that is under way in Myanmar will further strengthen EU-ASEAN relations," said EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, who will visit Myanmar after the conclusion of the ministerial meeting.

The ministers also confirmed an objective to strengthen trade agreements between the two regions by creating a regional ASEAN-EU FTA. EU ministers hope improve trade ties would boost economic growth, "Given the government debt crisis within the eurozone, the EU will need ASEAN more than ASEAN needs the EU," Justin Harper, market strategist at IG Markets in Singapore said.

The EU is currently negotiating FTAs with individual ASEAN members, hoping they can become building blocs for a region to region deal. Both regions had "enormous potential,"  said Guido Westerwelle, German Foreign Minister.

Report: Myanmar changes bring new ASEAN-EU chapter (AFP, 27 April 2012)

Report: EU's lifting of sanctions in Myanmar hailed (Jakarta Post, 27 April 2012)

Meanwhile, the US has ruled out an immediate end to its main sanctions, saying it would only ease sanctions "in certain prescribed areas".

"I would simply say that there is no intention to 'lift' sanctions," Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Keen to maintain some leverage to push the regime towards continued reform, Kurt Campbell, US representative to East Asia said, "we recognize very clearly that there have to be provisions and capabilities to be able to respond if there is a reversal or a stalling out (of reforms), that leverage is an essential component of our strategy."

Some commentators remain concerned that reforms in the country have been overstated, and that lifting restrictions too soon may be premature and backfire later.

Report: Eye on unrest, US rules out end to Myanmar sanctions (AFP, 27 April 2012)

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