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ASEAN-EU relations advanced under Cambodia’s chairmanship

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Prime Minister Hun Sen meets with Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in Phnom Penh on August 4. BTV

ASEAN-EU relations advanced under Cambodia’s chairmanship

The EU became a Dialogue Partner of ASEAN in 1977. The 2007 adoption of the Nuremberg Declaration on an ASEAN-EU Enhanced Partnership was a major milestone of mutually beneficial relations between the two regions. Ever since, the ASEAN-EU relations have grown from strength to strength with the 2012 adoption of the Bangda Seri Begawan Plan of Action (POA) to Strengthen the ASEAN-EU Enhanced Partnership (2013-2017), covering a wide-ranging areas of cooperation within the three pillars of ASEAN.

Its successor POA (2018-2022) was adopted at the August 2017 ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conferences (PMC) 10+1 Session with the EU in Manila, followed by its latest successor greater POA to Implement the ASEAN-EU Strategic Partnership (2022-2027), which was adopted at the August 2022 ASEAN PMC 10+1 Session with the EU in Phnom Penh under Cambodia’s ASEAN Chairmanship year.

The ASEAN-EU Enhanced Partnership was elevated to the Strategic partnership at the 23rd biannual ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting in 2020.

Although ASEAN-EU do not have regular annual summit, the relations between the two regions have steadfastly advanced to a new height. As an exemplification, this year is a new historical milestone of the ASEAN-EU enduring natural partnership as the two regions celebrate the 45th Anniversary of their Dialogue Relations. The ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit will be convened on 14 December 2022 in Brussels --- the heart of Europe --- to mark this milestone. It is worth emphasizing that Prime Minister Hun Sen will co-chair this Commemorative Summit with President of the European Council Charles Michel, thanks to the Philippines who has facilitated the arrangement in its capacity as country-coordinator for ASEAN-EU relations. To demonstrate a stronger commitment to further advance the strategic partnership to a new height, a Joint Leaders’ Statement will be adopted and the new POA will be noted. ASEAN and the EU have a combined population of 1.1 billion, one of the largest markets in the globe.

ASEAN has undertaken its joint actions and coordinate policies with its partners, including the EU, in the battle against Covid-19. ASEAN welcomes the EU’s ‘TEAM Europe’ package of over € 800 million to fight against the spread of the pandemic and mitigate its impacts on the region, along with additional support program: ‘South East Asia Health Pandemic Response and Preparedness’ of € 20 million, implemented by the WHO.

On politico-security cooperation, the EU has engaged with ASEAN through their participation in ASEAN-led mechanisms, including ARF, PMC, AEMM, AESOM, SOMTC Plus EU Consultation and HLD-MS. The EU acceded to the TAC during Cambodia’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2012 in Phnom Penh. The accession demonstrated the strong commitment of the EU towards ASEAN, and this reflects a significant milestone in ASEAN-EU natural relations. There are 25 Ambassadors from the EU Member States accredited to ASEAN in Jakarta. Mr. Igor DRIESMANS is the incumbent EU Ambassador to ASEAN.

ASEAN Member States, including Cambodia, look forwards to enhancing maritime cooperation with the EU based on the collaboration of priority areas in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indio-Pacific (AOIP), which have been mainstreamed within ASEAN-led mechanisms, and the EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, underpinned by the ASEAN Centrality.

On economic cooperation, the EU remains one of the largest trading partners of ASEAN. The ASEAN-EU total value of the two way-merchandise trade reached US$ 269.9 billion in 2021, increasing 18.6%, on a year-on-year basis, from 2020. The FDI inflow from the EU to ASEAN surged by 42.9% in 2021 on a-year-on-year basis, which amounted to US$ 26.5 billion, placing the EU as the ASEAN’s 2nd largest investor amongst all ASEAN’s Dialogue Partners last year. The 18th AEM-EU Trade Commissioner Consultation, held on 18 September 2022, endorsed the ASEAN-EU Trade and Investment Work Program 2022-2023 as a guide for further promoting trade and investment between the two regions.

The EU began negotiations with ASEAN for a region-to-region free trade agreement (FTA) in 2007 but the negotiations were suspended in 2009. However, notwithstanding this, the EU has pursued bilateral trade negotiations with individual ASEAN Member States, including Singapore and Malaysia in 2010, Vietnam in 2012, Thailand in 2013, Philippines in 2015 and Indonesia in 2016. Negotiations have so far been concluded and the FTAs entered into force with Singapore and Vietnam in 2019 and 2020, respectively. This good momentum has steadfastly advanced. ASEAN and the EU reiterate the importance of continuing the work towards reaching ASEAN-EU FTA, which will strengthen economic engagement between the two regions through the development of the framework setting out parameters of a future ASEAN-EU FTA. ASEAN and the EU welcome the establishment of bilateral FTAs between ASEAN Member Stares and the EU, and look forward to further progress in these FTA negotiations, which will serve as building-blocks for the future ASEAN-EU FTA. ASEAN Member States are satisfied with this advanced progress. Cambodia, for its part, reaffirms a future ASEAN-EU FTA as a common long-term objective for regional growth.

Furthermore, ASEAN and the EU are walking their dream to fulfil the leaders’ vision under the strategic partnership. The ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (ASEAN-EU CATA) was signed at the 28th ASEAN Transport Ministers’ Meeting on 17 October 2022, in Bali. The ASEAN-EU CATA is the world’s first bloc-to-block air transport agreement which will help bolster the recovery of air connectivity between the two regions following the Covid-19 pandemic, implementing the ASEAN-EU Joint Ministerial Statement on Connectivity.

On socio-cultural cooperation, the EU continues to render support for ASEAN in promoting gender equality and women empowerment, protection of migrant workers and enhancing the quality of education through scholarship and support higher education through SHARE program. Moreover, through the READI facility, the EU has rendered support for education, science, technology, environment, and disaster management. On disaster management, the EU supports the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief under the financing agreement of the EU’s Support to the AHA Centre signed in 2018 in Brussels.

ASEAN and the EU have further promoted cooperation in the effective implementation of the UN 2030 SDG Agenda and the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change through the High-Level Dialogue on Sustainable Development: Towards Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Indeed, ASEAN and the EU reaffirm their joint commitment to strengthen cooperation on shared regional and global challenges related to the protection of the environment and climate change through the High-Level Dialogue on Environment and Climate Change.

On development cooperation program, the EU has supported ASEAN in the regional integration process, strengthening the ASEAN Secretariat, and enhancing ASEAN connectivity through various development cooperation programs across the three pillars of ASEAN. ASEAN and the EU have concluded many financing agreements, including the ARISE Plus, the Integrated Program on Enhancing the Capacity of the AHA Centre, EU Support to the AHA Centre, Smart Green ASEAN Cities, amongst others. In addition, the EU has provided funding and technical assistance to support many programs over the past years, including, EU Share, Enhancing ASEAN FTA Negotiations Capacity to ASEAN-EU Negotiating Process, ASEAN Air Transport Integration Project, amongst others.

Chun Sovannarith is former correspondent of the Tokyo News in Cambodia. The views expressed are solely his own.

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