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An expanding partnership for ASEAN-EU

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As foreign ministers from ASEAN and the European Union gather in Brunei Darussalam for the 19th ASEAN-EU ministerial meeting today and tomorrow, the sense of drive and ambition underpinning our partnership has never been stronger.

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I look forward to using this meeting to take the EU’s relations with South-east Asia to a new level.

Our shared goal is to make this partnership – encompassing one-sixth of the world’s population – fit for purpose in the 21st century. There are several ways we can do that.

The first way is by boosting prosperity in our regions and the wider world.

Thriving commercial ties between the EU and ASEAN – with total trade reaching €167 billion in 2011 – are an engine for much-needed growth, but we can do much more to unleash their full potential.

The conclusion of free trade agreements with our ASEAN partners – with a region-to-region agreement the ultimate objective – will remove impediments to doing business and increase investment in the region.

The EU has developed its single market over decades – a process that has benefited not only our 500 million citizens, but also those who want to do business within our borders.

With this in mind, the EU fully supports ASEAN’s plan to create an ASEAN economic community by 2015.

We are pleased to support initiatives that will help to make that vision a reality, including the launch in Brunei of a program to promote joint work on customs and standards.

The annual ASEAN-EU business summit, which convened in Phnom Penh this month, is another valuable platform to cultivate connections between governments and business.

The second way to strengthen this union is through an enriched political partnership and more practical collaboration.

In Brunei, we will announce the launch of enhanced co-operation on crisis management, including exchanges of best practice; closer co-ordination on disaster risk reduction; the establishment of a regional network of early warning systems to respond to disasters; and capacity-building for the ASEAN Co-ordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance and disaster management.

I also look forward to boosting our co-operation in maritime security and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

This political partnership has led to closer co-ordination between the EU and ASEAN in addressing global challenges, from terrorism to climate change, and from sustainable development to the fight against communicable diseases.

Positive engagement is already under way in these areas, and there is room to take our co-operation further.

Democratic and human-rights values are a vital adjunct to the EU-ASEAN relationship.

Just as the EU has expanded human-rights protection and promotion in its domestic and foreign policies – including through a Charter of Fundamental Rights and the creation of a Fundamental Rights Agency – the advent of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights provides a new basis for collaboration in this important field.

The remarkable transformation under way in Myanmar will further strengthen EU-ASEAN relations.

At the ministerial gathering, we will jointly commend the significant progress made by Myanmar towards a democratic future.

Immediately after the ministerial, I will make my first visit to that country to launch a new phase in EU-Myanmar relations.

Technical and political co-operation cannot exist in a vacuum: it is contact between the one billion citizens of EU and ASEAN countries that will foster mutual understanding.

That is why initiatives such as the EU’s Erasmus Mundus program – which awards 250 scholarships to ASEAN students each year, enabling them to study in Europe – are vital.

Last but not least, the EU and ASEAN should continue learning from each other’s experiences in crafting regional integration.

Integration is not an end in itself, but a means to better deliver peace, prosperity and tangible improvements to citizens’ lives.

The EU, which has gone through its own 50-year integration process, is pleased to be supporting ASEAN integration through a 70 million euro program to implement the three “blueprints” for the ASEAN community – political-security, economic and socio-cultural – and through a total of two billion euros allocated for the period from 2007 to 2013 to individual ASEAN member states to bridge the development gap.

The two-way exchange of acumen and experience will be further aided by the launch in Brunei of a staff exchange scheme for ASEAN and EU institutions.

ASEAN’s initiative of forming new regional forums such as the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN defence ministers’ meeting plus 15 has confirmed its central role in a new East Asian regional architecture.

The EU wants to be an active, constructive partner in Asian regionalism. That is why it particularly looks forward to EU accession to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Co-operation.

As we mark 35 years of relations between the EU and ASEAN, the ministerial meeting in Brunei will pay tribute to an enduring relationship characterised by friendship, stability and co-operation.

Cathy Ashton is the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

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