EU group urges Vietnam to speed ASEAN trade deal

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HANOI, Oct 3 (Reuters) European parliamentarians urged Vietnam on Wednesday to fast-track negotiations for an EU-ASEAN free trade agreement as European businesses worry about competition from the United States and elsewhere.

Vietnam, which is coordinating talks that began last May between the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations and the 27-member European Union, joined the World Trade Organisation in January after 11 years of trying.

Corien Wortmann-Kool, head of the European Parliament's International Trade Committee visiting Vietnam, cited a free trade agreement between Singapore and the United States that gives the U.S. ''an advantage with requirements above WTO requirements which are not available to Europe and European businesses''.

Officials say an EU-ASEAN deal is years away but Wortmann-Kool told a business luncheon in Hanoi, ''We made very clear in our talks that we do want to have a highest priority to the free trade negotiations from the Vietnamese government and that they not advance Korea and India above the European Union.'' Members of the committee met delegates from the communist-run country's National Assembly, or parliament, and the vice trade minister. The committee visited Singapore on Tuesday.

Trade between the EU and ASEAN stood at around 1 billion in 2005, according to ASEAN data.

In Singapore, the European politicians said any FTA would likely exclude Myanmar, whose military junta violently cracked down in the past two weeks on Buddhist monks and other protesters.

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 PBB RN1706

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