The EU and ASEAN should react to the worldwide retreat from globalisation by boosting their efforts towards greater partnership, participants told a Friends of Europe Policy Summit.
The Association of South East Asian Nations was set up in 1967 at a time of global turmoil to promote greater political and economic cooperation. The past few decades have provided its members with a strong framework for economic growth, in particular the trend towards global free trade. As ASEAN reaches age 50, however, there are signs of a backlash against globalisation in Europe and the United States.
“The world is turning inward now and multilateralism seems to be under pressure,” said Surin Pitsuwan, who was ASEAN Secretary General from 2008 to 2012. “We are having to look for a new modality in Southeast Asia. If you ask me, the answer should be more ASEAN – more economic partnership – because we can’t rely on what is happening around the world.”
The EU could contribute to ASEAN economic growth too. ASEAN is the EU’s third largest trading partner and the EU is ASEAN’s second, with bilateral trade reaching €201bn in 2015.
“The economic relationship remains the bedrock of our relations,” said Gunnar Wiegand, Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Action Service (EEAS). “We have had a very proactive trade agenda, and already negotiated free trade agreements with Vietnam and Singapore.”
The two partners have launched negotiations for a comprehensive air transport agreement, which would be the first accord to lay out an “open skies” or “open aviation area” arrangement between two major regional trading blocs. In addition, on 10 March, trade leaders from the blocs, including EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, announced the resumption of work towards a region-to-region FTA.
“Market signals are very positive,” said Pierre Amilhat, Director for Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Gulf and the Pacific at the European Commission Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development. “They are validating the partnership, as is civil society.”
Efforts to boost economic integration between ASEAN members include work to develop the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which will promote free trade and the flow of skilled labour.
“The AEC has already achieved one part of its agenda – to reduce tariffs and grow trade in goods,” said Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, who was Secretary General of ASEAN from 2003 to 2007. “ASEAN economies have become dynamic from the flow of goods. The main problem today is the trade in services, which is not growing as strongly as we would like. There are non-tariff barriers that slow down trade in services.”
Should you not be able to see the photo gallery, please click here.
You may wish to view the event page.