By Don Pramudwini
Special to The Nation
Foreign ministers from Asean and European Union member states have gathered this week in Bangkok for the 21st Asean-EU Ministerial Meeting (AEMM).
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Asean-EU relations and there are great hopes that the relationship will develop into a “strategic partnership”. As the host and country coordinator for the AEMM (2015-2018), Thailand feels that the experience will provide the country with an excellent opportunity to play a leading role in helping to advance communications and cooperation with member states of Asean and the EU.
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission (EC) and I will be co-chairing the meeting.
The focus of the meeting will be to discuss the elevation of Asean-EU relations to a “strategic partnership” level, which would allow for the deeper and wider relations between Asean and the EU in areas of mutual interest between the regions and their peoples.
The discussion between Asean and the EU will cover all areas which are mutually beneficial including the economy, trade, investment, and development. Specific issues will likely include an Asean-EU air transport agreement, maritime security, sustainable development, science and technology, innovation and social and educational issues.
Mutual understanding and respect between the government and peoples of Asean and the EU are also important as the two regions move towards the level of “strategic partnership”. Exchange of views on regional and international issues can help find common ground that would strengthen their global partnership on issues of common concern.
Now that Asean is a community, both Asean and the EU states can do more in sharing knowledge on issues such as border management, the joint development of border areas into zones for business, trade and tourism and learn other skills from each other. This will then lead to more people-to-people interactions.
In addition to the above points, having the “strategic partnership” can deepen cooperation on climate change, disaster mitigation, and the integration of theoretical and practical education in higher education institutes, which also includes vocational education. Asean can learn from the EU’s experiences in capacity development with SMEs, advancing technology and mechanics, innovation and industry 4.0. The EU is also a global leader on rules and regulations concerning intellectual property rights (IPR) and standards for industrial and food products, along with promoting and regulating a green economy. These are all processes that would help the development of Asean to become more efficient with resources and improved sustainability.
This is not to say that the EU cannot also benefit from Asean. Asean, as a whole, covers a dynamic region that has enjoyed rapid economic growth and will likely continue to grow over the next few decades. Asean has more than 600 million people who are mostly of working age, and rapidly increasing disposable income. Asean has also made significant strides in increasing the infrastructure and improving its connectivity via land, sea, air and communications. With all of these factors, it should look more and more promising for the EU to increase business with Asean.
By the conclusion of the 21st AEMM today, foreign ministers from both sides will have had the opportunity to discuss ways forward in unison, as well as ways in transforming the actions required into concrete outcomes with meaningful benefits for both Asean and the EU.
Don Pramudwini is the minister of Foreign Affairs.