EU and ASEAN: free trade talks possible

At the annual EU-ASEAN ministerial consultations held in the Filipino capital of Manila on 10 March trade leaders from the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to take new steps towards resuming free trade talks between the two regions.

EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “2017 marks the 40th anniversary of fruitful cooperation between the EU and ASEAN. There is still much to be done to unlock the full potential of the EU-ASEAN relationship, and  the quickly changing international environment now makes us turn our eyes even more towards Asia. I am glad to see that both sides are now ready to seize the momentum and start preparations towards re-launching these negotiations. This is a significant and timely initiative, and it shows that the EU and ASEAN are committed to take the lead together on regional and global trade. The EU remains strongly committed to advancing a positive global trade agenda in which all sides are winners.”

The participants of the ministerial meeting will task their senior officials to work out the parameters of the negotiations for a future ASEAN-EU region-to-region agreement, said a statement. The participants also agreed to organise expert meetings in new areas of cooperation such as public procurement, e-commerce, and simplifying trade for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Leading up to next year’s ministerial, the EU and ASEAN countries will also continue to advance bilateral free trade talks and discussing other topics. Participants agreed to have their officials explore the idea of a multilateral court for investment that can serve as a single global judicial instance for resolving investment-related disputes. This initiative was launched jointly by the EU and Canada some months ago.

At the sidelines of the EU-ASEAN meeting, Commissioner Malmström also met bilaterally with trade and economic Ministers from several ASEAN countries, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Background
Negotiations on an EU-ASEAN trade agreement originally started back in 2007. The differences in level of economic development and openness between the members of the South-East Asian grouping made Europe pursue the talks in separate settings with individual members of ASEAN as of 2009. So far, the EU has concluded, but not yet ratified, bilateral trade agreements with Singapore and Vietnam. Furthermore, the EU is pursuing negotiations with Indonesia, the Philippines and also, as regards investment protection, with Myanmar.

Noteworthy is that Thailand is not mentioned in this regard by the statement. Negotiations for an EU-Thailand Free Trade Agreement (FTA) were launched in March 2013. The negotiations aimed to conclude a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement.

Since the military takeover in Thailand in May 2014 no further FTA rounds have been scheduled, writes the European Commission.

Thailand and the EU have negotiated and finalised in November 2013 a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which provides a comprehensive framework for EU-Thailand relations and will open up wide opportunities to develop cooperation. The EU and its Member States will not sign the PCA with until a democratically elected government is in place in Thailand.

The EU is the most important investor in ASEAN and its second trading partner. With bilateral trade in goods worth more than 200 billion euros per year, ASEAN is the EU’s third trading partner.

Thailand is one of the most important destinations of European investments within ASEAN. The EU is the second-largest investor in Thailand after Japan.

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