By Joey Aguilar/Staff Reporter

Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs  will open a “dedicated unit” to deal with  Qatar-Asean  concerns and to establish closer relations with the 10-member bloc of  southeast Asian countries, Philippine ambassador Crescente Relacion has said.

Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Committee in Doha (ACD)  met with HE the Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani on July 22 and  paid a courtesy call on HE the Foreign Minister HE Dr Khalid bin Mohamed al-Attiyah the following day.

Sharing the gist of their talks with the  ministers, ambassador Relacion told Gulf Times that they had promised to visit Asean countries “in the near future”.

“A high-level delegation will accompany the ministers to make the visit productive and substantive instead of the trip turning out to be a merely ceremonial one,” he said.

HE Sheikh Abdullah and HE al-Attiyah have also expressed their willingness to support the committee in developing closer ties between Qatar and the Asean as a bloc and individual member countries as well. They also promised help in assisting the group’s aspiration to become a legal entity in the State of Qatar.

ACD members include the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei and Singapore. It is now being chaired by Vietnam’s ambassador, Le Hong Phan.

During the meeting, the seven Asean heads of missions congratulated the two Qatari ministers on their recent appointments and also offered their Ramadan greetings.

The ambassadors presented various opportunities offered by their respective countries which have more than 600mn citizens and  $2.3tn nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), making it the eighth largest economy in the world.

The bloc is aiming to have an Asean Economic Community by the end of 2015. Relacion said Qatar could take advantage of the opportunities arising out of this development  by investing in any of the member country.

“It will benefit from a collective economy as tariff barriers among the 10 countries are eliminated,” he noted.

Relacion cited that Qatar had already invested in the telecommunications sector in Indonesia and Singapore. It has also won the bid for a telecommunication licence in Myanmar. “Qatar has substantial investments in Malaysia, Thailand and recently it also concluded a $1.5bn petrochemical project in Vietnam.”

Part of their discussions in the meeting covered Qatar-Asean cultural co-operation. He said that Qatar’s Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage had vowed to support ACD’s programmes and projects like a week-long Asean Cultural Festival planned for next year.

Thai ambassador Panyarak Poolthup had earlier said that bridging different cultures was the best way “to lay a firm foundation on which both countries could further build up closer relations”. He cited the successful staging of the Thai cultural show at Katara - the Cultural Village Foundation, which was attended by many diplomats, officials and community leaders in Doha.