SINGAPORE, Oct 2 (Reuters) A free trade agreement between the European Union and Southeast Asia would exclude military-ruled Myanmar and negotiations to reach a deal could take years, a member of the European Parliament said today.
The two groups, which together include 37 nations and are home to more than a billion people, agreed last May to start talks and embark on one of the world's largest regional trade negotiations, despite differences over Myanmar, the subject of EU sanctions and human rights concerns.
''Frankly, it was almost impossible before the recent events, I think it's completely impossible now for that FTA to include Myanmar,'' Glyn Ford, a member of the European Parliament, told journalists during a visit of the parliament's International Trade Committee to Singapore.
''The negotiations here are proceeding comparatively slowly,'' he said, adding they ''will take some years'' to conclude and that a deal with Southeast Asian countries excluding Myanmar was a possibility for the EU.
Trade between the EU and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, stood at around 141 billion dollars in 2005, according to ASEAN data.
Corien Wortmann-Kool, the committee's group leader called on Singapore's government to take steps against Myanmar's leadership after a bloody crackdown on the biggest democracy protests in the country in 20 years.
''It is important that these are really effective measures. This (Singapore) is an economic centre, this is a financial centre. I think the government can think of measures,'' Wortmann-Kool said but declined to elaborate.
Singapore, whose trade with Myanmar last year reached 678 million dollars, has close relations with Myanmar's junta. Several of its rulers have sought medical treatment in the wealthy island republic.
''Singapore is one of the major trading partners of Myanmar. It is not as if there is not potential influence to be had here,'' Ford said.
ASEAN has declared itself a free-trade area but has yet to forge a free-trade agreement as a bloc with any external trade partner. It is negotiating free-trade pacts with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
REUTERS SZ KN1410