LUXEMBOURG (AP) - The EU will open free-trade talks with India, South Korea and a 10-nation group for Southeast Asia that could add more than $54 billion to Europe's annual exports, European officials said Monday.
The agreements would ''open new markets to EU businesses and give a valuable boost to global trade,'' EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said.
An overall global trade agreement, however, remains the bloc's ''first priority,'' the European Union's 27 foreign ministers said.
Negotiations with the Asian nations were expected to start within months. EU officials said a speedy schedule was needed to catch up with rivals, such as the United States, which recently reached a breakthrough free-trade pact with Seoul.
The EU also wants to secure a hold in other strong Asian markets, such as India, China and Japan.
After negotiations stalled for a world trade pact, the EU agreed to talks with Latin American countries to broaden trade options.
Negotiations with Asia would aim for so-called new generation trade deals, which include opening up trade in goods and services, investment and eliminating non-tariff barriers, such as technical standards and quotas.
Human rights standards will play a big part in talks with the 10 members of THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, officials said.
The EU already has economic and political sanctions against Myanmar because of its failure to democratize and release political prisoners.
The European Commission said if an agreement is reached, it could add billions to European exports in a region where it has no prior free-trade pacts.
An EU analysis released Monday said such trade accords would ''create significant new trade and give a valuable boost to global trade, especially in services.'' The Commission said EU exports to ASEAN could jump by 24.2 percent, 57 percent to India, and around 48 percent to South Korea.