5 Asean countries get their act together

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sun, Aug 16, 2009
The Nation/Asia News Network


Major Asean rice-producers Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma plan to form an association to create a sustainable system for trading and production.

The plan was unveiled yesterday following Cambodian leader Hun Sen's initiative at the Asean Summit in Cha-am in late February. It focuses on price stabilisation, food security in the region and rice development. It aims for price stability next year.

It comprises the five countries of the Ayeyawady-Chao Praya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (Acmecs) and will set up an Acmecs Rice Traders Association.

Thailand, Laos and Cambodia have agreed in principle and plan talks with Cambodia and Burma during the Asean Economic Ministers Meeting, which ends today.

For some years Thailand and Vietnam have cooperated to curb price-cutting in the export market through data exchange.

A Thai source close to the negotiations said they solved Thailand's major problem on circumvention by neighbouring countries, diluted price-cutting in the region and stabilised prices.

"It will create a supply chain in the region which will strengthen bargaining power in the world market," the source said.

Chaiya Yimvilai, adviser to the commerce minister, said yesterday that Laos proposed Thailand and Vietnam draw up the plan.

Thailand and Vietnam are white-rice producers while Laos focuses on sticky rice.

Laos has approached Thailand as a partner in a joint venture with Kuwait to grow rice in Laos.

The Lao government has allocated 200,000 hectares.

Laos has 2 million hectares set aside for rice, but only 900,000 are actually under the crop.

Meanwhile, the Asean-Australia and New Zealand Free Trade Agreement comes into force on January 1.

Australia and New Zealand are important trade partners of Asean, with bilateral trade in 2008 valued at US$67.2 billion (Bt2.3 trillion). They were the seventh largest export market of Asean.

Asean exports to Australia and New Zealand reached nearly $44 billion last year. Major goods were fuel, machinery, automobiles, gold and electrical appliances.

Chaiya added that Thailand and Australia would increase trade in services under the Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement. Australia wants to see more business-to-business trade.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean said the Asean-Australia and New Zealand Closer Economic Relations (CER) pact would benefit trade and investment growth during the global economic downturn.

"The pact will not only open market access between the two regions but also capacity-building and integration among us," he said, and though technical details remained to be worked out, it should be implemented on schedule early next year.

Crean also strongly supported Asean's bilateral pacts with six trading partners forming the Asean+6 group.

Asean and its partners must create a framework for East Asian integration, he said.


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