BUTUAN CITY , Philippines – Claiming that trade policies affect peace and development, New Zea-land Ambassador Andrew Matheson urged ASEAN member-countries, particularly the Philippines, to “give a closer look at the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA).”

He said when New Zealand signed a free trade agreement with China on April 7, 2005, thorough research and studies have been made by the New Zealand government to ensure it will be beneficial to both countries.

Matheson answered the question raised during a press conference here on what will be his unsolicited advice to ASEAN countries particularly the Philippines over scheduled enforcement of the framework ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) by this year

New Zealand was the first developed economy to sign a free trade deal with China. But unlike the Philippines, which is gearing to sign ACFTA, New Zealand has low unemployment rate. Its GDP in 2008 stood at $115.624-billion and its per capita income was among the highest at $27,017.

“Free trade agreements must be anchored fully to the best of the national interests of both countries and I agree with you that trade policies affect much peace and development efforts of the Philippines as it affects daily lives of communities and all Filipino people,” Matheson told The STAR.

For his part, Presidential Adviser for Mindanao Affairs Jesus Dureza claimed there is no way the Philippines can back out of the agreement or else the country will be left behind.

Dureza accompanied the New Zealand envoy and UNDP country director for the Philippines Renaud Meyer in visiting three communities in the Caraga Region where projects funded by the UN program are ongoing.

In November 2001, China and the 10-member Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN) began negotiations to set up free trade.

One year later, a framework agreement for the planned FTA was signed. The FTA, a zero-tariff market of more than 1.7 billion people, has been targeted to come into force this year for the six original ASEAN members (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) and in 2015 for the other four (Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam).

Implementation of the framework agreement would occur in stages. For instance, an early harvest program covering trade in goods came into force in July 2005. Negotiations on a dispute settlement mechanism were finalized in 2004 for implementation in 2005. –Ben Serrano (The Philippine Star)