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Burma to benefit from ASEAN free trade deal -

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Burma to benefit from ASEAN free trade deal

AM - Tuesday, 30 November , 2004 08:15:00

Reporter: Peter Lloyd

TONY EASTLEY: When John Howard agrees to a timeframe for a free trade area with ASEAN later today
it will signal Australia's willingness to do business with one of the world's most reviled regimes.

Military-run Burma, which overthrew a democratic vote in 1990, is an ASEAN member state and will
benefit from any improved trade measures with Australia when the FTA comes into force in two years.

South East Asia correspondent, Peter Lloyd, reports.

PETER LLOYD: When John Howard sits down with ASEAN leaders today the group will include Burma's
newly appointed Prime Minister Soe Win. A general in the Burmese army, Soe Win was the architect of
a May 2003 assassination attempt on Nobel Prize winning democracy campaigner, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Twenty-four hours ago, the regime announced that it was extending the house arrest of Suu Kyi until
September next year.

General Soe Win has only been in the job less than a month after the ousting of a more reform
minded Prime Minister, General Khin Nyunt, who was the driving force behind a plan to re-draft a
more democratic constitution ahead of fresh elections.

Observers say his removal signalled a hardening of the regime's position. But on the sidelines of
the ASEAN summit, Burma's foreign minister Nyan Win - another soldier in a suit - has been
insisting that reform measures will continue, albeit without Aung San Suu Kyi and her political
party.

"The answer is clear," he said, "there will be no change. Recent changes will have no bearing on
either the country's domestic or foreign policy."

One of Burma's chief trading commodities is textiles - manufactured by cheap labourers in factories
mostly owned by the military. Most of the European Union and the United States have banned imports.

Forced labour is of course nothing new to the regime. It routinely forces prisoners at gunpoint to
carry army supplies and even march into mine fields to clear a safe passage for troops.

In past visits to Asia, John Howard has said nothing to condemn Rangoon. If he sticks to that
policy today he won't be alone. Citing a custom of not interfering in internal matters of member
states, ASEAN secretary General Ong Keng Yong defended the absence of criticism of Burma in the
summit's final communiqué.

ONG KENG YONG: You have to appreciate that we have certain basic principles - one is that we make
decisions by consensus, two is that if it is your own internal business we should not be commenting
on it in a formal document as an ASEAN organisation.

We wish that something would come out more ideally, but this is something which they have to decide
themselves, but what we are concerned about in ASEAN is that we continue to interact with each
other on this issue in a way which makes all of us comfortable - after all, it's a family business.

PETER LLOYD: It's a family business that will soon be doing deals with Australia. In Bangkok this
is Peter Lloyd reporting for AM.