Mon 19 Nov 2007
Filed under: International,News
The reputation and credibility of Southeast Asia’s main political bloc is at stake because of Myanmar’s junta and its refusal to allow a transition to democracy, the top U.S. trade official said Monday.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations “has a special responsibility when it comes to the situation in Burma,” U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told reporters after a meeting with ASEAN economic ministers in Singapore.
“The reputation and credibility of ASEAN as an organization has been called into question because of the situation in Burma … It just can’t be business as usual,” she said.
Schwab added, however, that leaders of the 10-member association are concerned about the military crackdown in the isolated country also known as Burma.
“They take it seriously. The question is what the results will be,” she said.
Schwab’s comments came after the regional group rejected the Senate’s call to suspend the military-ruled country. The Senate on Friday passed a resolution urging ASEAN to consider “appropriate disciplinary measures, including suspension, until such time as the government of Burma has demonstrated improved respect for and commitment to human rights.”
Following a working lunch with Schwab, some ASEAN trade representatives said imposing sanctions against Myanmar would not be an effective measure as it would further isolate the country.
During the meeting, Schwab also discussed on an expanded trade and investment pact between ASEAN and the United States, the region’s No. 1 trading partner, since its signing in August last year. But she noted the two sides were a long way from reaching a free trade agreement.
“It is impossible to imagine an FTA in the near term under the current political circumstances,” Schwab said, citing Myanmar, which Washington has hit with sanctions over its poor human rights record.
“But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have the opportunity to continue broadening and deepening the commercial ties with individual ASEAN members,” Schwab said.
The United States has a free trade agreement with Singapore and is currently negotiating another one with Malaysia. It says similar discussions with Thailand are on hold until a democratically elected government is in place, after the prime minister was ousted in a bloodless coup last September.