03 June 2015
On May 19, 2015, the European Union (EU) adopted a Joint Communication: The EU and ASEAN: a partnership with a strategic purpose. The communication calls for taking “trade relations with ASEAN to a different level and working towards an ambitious region-to-region free trade agreement (FTA) building on bilateral agreements between the EU and ASEAN Member States.” Senior officials of ASEAN and the EU will gather towards the end of 2015 to take stock and explore the way forward after identifying the advantages and pitfalls that a ASEAN-EU free trade initiative might entail.
In fact, ASEAN and the EU began negotiating a similar arrangement in 2007, but the talks quietly broke off two years and seven rounds later, primarily over the troubled human rights record of Myanmar, a country that had been internationally isolated since the early 1960s. As a normative power, the EU has a legal obligation under the Lisbon Treaty to incorporate human rights issues into external trade and investment frameworks, to ensure that the economic benefits do not come at the expense of human rights abroad. It therefore baulked at including Myanmar in the talks. With a region-to-region FTA on ice, the EU shifted its approach to forging closer bilateral trade ties with four individual ASEAN member states: Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. The EU-Singapore FTA has been concluded in 2012 and is in the process of being ratified.
And indeed, despite the fruitless attempts at the regional level, bilateral economic ties have gone from strength to strength. ASEAN is the EU’s third largest trading partner outside Europe, after the U.S. and China, with more than €179.2 billion ($195.7 billion) in trade in goods and services in 2014. The EU was ASEAN’s second largest trading partner, behind only China, in 2013. Accounting for 22 percent of foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to ASEAN, the EU is the region’s largest foreign investor, with more than 10,000 European companies operating in Southeast Asia. The EU is also the most generous donor to the ASEAN Secretariat, with plans to more than double financial assistance in support of ASEAN integration to €170 million over the period to 2020.
… Ji Xianbai is PhD candidate at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore on the prestigious Nanyang President’s Graduate Scholarship (NPGS). He is also Associate Fellow at European Union Centre in Singapore.
GPO / Online
Last updated on 16/11/2015