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EU-ASEAN Prospects

EU-ASEAN Prospects

3 May 2012

 Prospects for EU-ASEAN relations

Opening the event, Fraser Cameron, drew attention to the intervention by Rod Severino, the former Secretary General of ASEAN who had offered a cautiously optimistic picture of the prospects for EU-ASEAN relations. He had urged the EU to take Southeast Asia more seriously as the EU was perceived as being only interested in China. There was also a tendency to project European ways of integration as applicable to East whereas there were fundamental differences between Europe and East Asia. He had hoped the FTAs would make progress because they were essentially of a political nature. He had encouraged European firms to invest in ASEAN countries, to think long-term and to press for regional economic integration in SE Asia.

Pedro Serrano, Director for South and Southeast Asia, EEAS offered an EU perspective of the recent EU-ASEAN ministerial in Brunei and suggested a number of ways to take the relationship forward. He said that the EU and ASEAN were natural partners. ASEAN was of growing importance in its own right and as a hub for the ARF and EAS. ASEAN was also the EU’s second trade partner after China. The bilateral relationships the EU was developing were complementary to the EU-ASEAN relationship. As regards the recent ministerial Serrano drew attention to the desire for closer cooperation on political and security issues, especially crisis management, peace and reconciliation, and EU support for institutional structures in ASEAN, including staff exchanges. Implementation of the ambitious action plan would be crucial.

Pham Sanh Chau, Ambassador of Vietnam to the EU, agreed that the ministerial had been successful but it would be important to ensure a commitment to follow up on the various proposals. Today’s conference was timely because the EU needed to have a better understanding of ASEAN. It should not be a latecomer to the party. The EU should take ASEAN more seriously, understand its diversity and culture, develop mutually beneficial economic relations, take part in the ARF, and support ASEAN efforts at community building. The Lisbon treaty should enable the EU to adopt a more coherent approach but it was too bureaucratic (eg length of time to ratify the PCA) and seemed to spend too much time looking inwards, or outwards to China alone. Whereas there had been 13 high-level visits from Vietnam to the EU in the past five years there had only been one high-level EU visit. Human contact were important, hence the twice yearly ASEAN summits. It was important to promote more student exchanges between the EU and ASEAN.

Naomi Chakwin, Regional Director General of the Asian Development Bank outlined the prospects for economic development in ASEAN countries, against the wider Asian/global perspective. She outlined the support the ADB was giving to the Greater Mekong region, various infrastructure and urbanisation projects throughout ASEAN. There was still a need for more FDI – levels were still behind 1997. Growth in ASEAN would be about 5.2% in 2012 and 5.7% in 2013. There was a danger, however, of ASEAN falling into the middle income trap.

In the discussion there was a lively exchange about the need to improve the perception of ASEAN in the EU and vice versa. One Austrian diplomat told of being confused with Australia and a Malaysian diplomat said people often thought his country was in Africa. Another Asian ambassador said that there were encouraging signs that the EU was giving more attention to Asia and ASEAN. But it was crucial to sustain this new interest.

The second panel was chaired by Dato Serbini Ali, Ambassador of Brunei Darussalem to the EU, who added that from the host’s perspective the ministerial had gone very well.

Helena Koenig, Head of Unit, DG Trade, spoke of the state of play regarding EU-ASEAN trade relations and perspectives for the future. She suggested the EU was attempting to find the right balance between individual FTAs and bloc to bloc arrangements. Trade had grown to 280m euros in 2011 but there was potential to increase this more. In 2007 the EU had engaged in a scoping exercise on a possible bloc to bloc FTA. But after two years both sides agreed to a pause as there were too many difficulties and move down the bilateral route. FTAs had been negotiated with Singapore and it was hoped to conclude this year. and Malaysia wich may take a little longer to conclude. As regards the three LDCs (Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia) the EU had offered the best possible deal with ‘everything but arms.’ The Commission was now awaiting a mandate from the Council to open trade talks with the Philippines and Thailand. It should also be noted that the China-ASEAN FTA had imposed considerable strains on some economic sectors. Meanwhile there were useful working groups operating in fields such as customs, services and investment.

Gauri Khandekar, Head of Asia programme at FRIDE discussed the differences between EU and Asian views on human rights and democracy, taking Myanmar as a case study. There was unease in Asia about the manner in which the EU was promoting its normative power. How could the EU measure impact on democracy and human rights through its large development assistance programmes? What should be the right linkage between trade and human rights? It was an open question whether the current financial crisis would have an impact on the EU’s approach. For example there were no new funds for human rights nor would the new endowment for democracy have an Asia focus. The best thing the EU could do would be to ensure the proper functioning of its own democratic system. It could also support the Bali Democracy Forum and follow through on its commitments to Myanmar.

Florika Fink-Hooijer, Head of Cabinet to Commissioner Georgieva, considered disaster management to be a key priority for future EU-ASEAN cooperation. Natural disasters caused economic dislocation and social fragility. ASEAN was a ‘laboratory of disasters.’ Although member states varied widely in their organisational structures the EU had considerable expertise and resources and in an era of financial austerity there was an obvious need for cooperation. Each side could learn from the other. On the EU side, ECHO and the MIC were the lead agencies. The EU was already supporting ASEAN in disaster management via READI but more could be done, eg in exchanges and training.

In the discussion there was debate on the reasons for the relative decline in European FDI in ASEAN, GSP plus and conditionality, and the ability of the EU to influence internal developments.

In her closing remarks, Victoria Bataclan, Ambassador of the Philippines to the EU, agreed that there was now an ambitious agenda for EU-ASEAN cooperation. She highlighted the need to develop closer cooperation on political and security issues, especially crisis management and preventive diplomacy The Institute for Peace and Conciliation should be supported by the EU. The EU had to show up at meetings and play its part in security discussions such as the South China Sea. ASEAN had to increase its visibility and the Brussels-based ambassadors would welcome greater contact and exchanges with EU officials and experts. She was optimistic that ASEAN would meet its commitment to establish an ASEAN community by 2015. But as with the EU-ASEAN relationship everything depended on implementation. 



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