Officials and business representatives from 10 ASEAN member countries gathered in Siem Reap , Cambodia on Jan. 16 to discuss opportunities and challenges from free trade agreements (FTAs) as well as ways that ASEAN will benefit from the agreements.

As part of the EU’s “Enhancing ASEAN FTA Negotiation Capacity” Programme, the conference focused on trade policies of ASEAN and the EU as well as on new and emerging trade issues.

T he event also served as a venue for participants to share their knowledge and experience related to key issues such as the political economy of FTA and the challenges of FTA implementation and adjustment.

Pitch Rithi, a senior official from Cambodia ’s Ministry of Commerce and also Chairman of the ASEAN Senior Economic Official Meeting (SEOM), spoke highly of the EU’s technical assistance for ASEAN countries through the programme.

He said that free trade is not only essential for economic development and growth in support of competitiveness, consumer benefits and poverty reduction but also brings people closer.

According to Andreas Roettger, Head of Economic and Regional Cooperation of the EU Delegation to ASEAN, ASEAN and the EU are always important trade partners. The EU is the largest export market of ASEAN with a total value of over 90 billion USD while ASEAN as a whole represents the EU's third largest trading partner, after the US and China, with more than 175 billion USD of trade in goods and services in 2011.

The conference was held on the threshold of an ASEAN SEOM scheduled for January 17-19 in Siem Reap./.