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Saturday, August 13, 2011

East Asian gov'ts mull China-Japan joint proposal for region-wide FTA

MANADO (Kyodo) -- Economic ministers or their deputies from 13 East Asian nations met on Indonesia's Sulawesi island Friday and discussed a joint proposal by Japan and China to set up one of the world's biggest free trade areas in the region.

Malaysia's trade minister Mustapa Mohamed told reporters after the meeting that representatives of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, plus Japan, China and South Korea discussed the proposal in Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi province, and the ASEAN side was "supportive."

"We all agreed that we need this FTA in the longer term but we have to move in stages, we have got to strengthen our position first, and it should be gradual and inclusive," Mustapa said.

Mustapa said a priority for ASEAN -- which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- is to ensure that it will continue to play a central role in deciding the region's future economic architecture.

"We said we recognize the centrality of ASEAN and we will review it (the Japan-China proposal) further at the ASEAN summit in November," he said.

To that end, ASEAN is forging its own concept paper on the proposed FTA, which officials here call a "template."

The joint Chinese and Japanese proposal for a regional FTA initially calls for setting up working groups on trade in goods, trade in services and investment.

An ASEAN source said the ASEAN ministers felt the three working groups "could be convenient, but there is no formal go-signal yet."

"We must wait for the ASEAN paper, and we reassured the partners that the ASEAN paper will consider the proposals of China and Japan."

ASEAN has already set up four working groups related to the proposed FTA -- on rules of origin, tariff nomenclature, customs procedures and economic cooperation

ASEAN sources said not all ASEAN members were willing to accept the proposal of China and Japan for three more working groups, as it could be a burden for some of the group's less-developed members.

China and Japan has been suggesting different concepts for a regional FTA, with China eyeing an "East Asian Free Trade Area" consisting of the 13 ASEAN-plus-three member countries, and Japan opting for a "Comprehensive Economic Partnership for East Asia" for 16 Asian-Pacific countries, including Australia, New Zealand and India.

The two countries only recently agreed to submit a joint proposal, ASEAN officials said.

The joint proposal is expected to be discussed further Saturday in a forum of the 16-member East Asia Summit member countries, which are being expanded to 18 with the addition of the United States and Russia as members.
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Indian Malaysian gets 8 years in jail for human trafficking

An ethnic Indian in Malaysia has been sentenced to eight years in jail for human trafficking and abusing his Indonesian maid, three months after his wife was jailed for scalding the woman with a hot iron, a news report said on Saturday.

A. Vealu, a 42-year-old grass-cutting contractor, was convicted of exploiting a 26-year-old Win Farida, a maid from East Java, who was found with burn injuries after she was abandoned by Vealu and his wife Poongavanam last year.

Vealu and Poongavanam were jointly charged under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act which carries the maximum 20 years' jail sentence and fine. Vealu has not yet been jailed pending his appeal, the New Straits Times said on Friday. Poongavanam is currently serving an eight year jail sentence after she was found guilty of grievously hurting Faridaa with a hot iron in September last year, the daily said.

A district court in northern Penang state passed the verdict on Friday. Judge Roslan said Vealu's claims that he was forced by his wife Poongavanam to abandon the maid after hurting her was just an afterthought. He said Vealu had also never rebutted the maid's testimony of sexual abuse during the defence stage.

The maid, who was discovered by a roadside, had also accused Vealu of repeatedly raping her. Malaysia relies heavily on foreign workers in its plantation, construction and many other sectors. It also relies Indonesia, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines for house maids as Malaysians are not keen to take up these jobs.

However, cases of maid abuse have been frequent. Last year, Indonesia banned its maids from working in Malaysia after a case of maid abuse surfaced.

Earlier this week, Tenaganita, a migrant labour activist group, urged Cambodia to stop sending maids, after cases of maid abuse and overwork. The call followed news reports on the recent death of one maid, though police say she was not abused and died of pneumonitis and the alleged abuse of another, including having her head shaved bald.

Tenaganita said in a statement that many of the Cambodian maids remain "in a condition of forced labour with practices of modern day slavery."
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Cambodia to form first life insurer

PHNOM PENH, Aug 13, 2011 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- The Ministry of Economy and Finance and four private companies have announced a joint venture to establish the first life insurance firm in Cambodia.

The ministry and four firms had signed an agreement to establish Cambodia Life Insurance on Thursday, Mey Vann, director of the Ministry's Financial Industry Department, told Xinhua Saturday.

The four private firms are PT Asuransi from Indonesia, Asia Insurance from China's Hong Kong, Bangkok Life Assurance and Bangkok Insurance Public from Thailand.

"Under the deal, the Ministry holds 51 percent stake and the four firms own the remaining 49 percent," he said, adding that according to Cambodia's insurance law, it's required to have the minimum capital of 7 million U.S. dollars to open an insurance firm here.

Currently, Cambodia has six insurance companies and one domestic reinsurance company, all are general insurers, and none of them is life insurer.

"The Cambodia Life Insurance will be the first-ever life insurance company in Cambodia," he said. "It will help to develop the country's financial industry and also support the development of the newly formed securities market."
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