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A new partnership with South-East Asia

The Commission aims to re-invigorate relations between the European Union and South-East Asia on a basis of shared values and common interests. The paper suggests creating a proper framework for bilateral agreements to enable the adoption of a more modern agenda

ACT

Commission Communication on a new partnership with South-East Asia [COM(2003) 399 final - Not published in the Official Journal]

SUMMARY

The Communication proposes that EU/South-East Asia relations should be further developed in line with the guidelines contained in the 2001 Communication on ' Europe and Asia, a Strategic Framework for Enhanced Partnerships '.

South-East Asia is defined as covering the association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a regional grouping consisting of 10 individual countries: Brunei Darussalam, Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and East Timor, which is not yet a member of ASEAN.

The Communication identifies six strategic priorities:

  • supporting regional stability and the fight against terrorism;
  • promoting human rights, democratic principles and good governance;
  • mainstreaming justice and home affairs issues;
  • injecting a new dynamism into regional trade and investment relations;
  • continuing to support the development of less prosperous countries;
  • intensifying dialogue and cooperation in specific strategic sectors.

Reasons for enhancing relations

The EU and South-East Asia share stronger economic, political and security interests than ever before. The future will see a shift in the centre of gravity of the world economy to the Asia Pacific region, with ASEAN emerging as a key partner for trade and investment. ASEAN is also making efforts towards creating a regional economic space that will help attract foreign direct investment, e.g. the creation of the free-trade area in January 2003.

The two regions find themselves more dependent on one another in addressing global challenges and the EU therefore wishes to broaden its programme of cooperation with South-East Asia. The priorities remain poverty reduction and improving basic health and education services. The European Community has adopted a holistic approach that acknowledges the inter-relationship of different issues so as to address them in the best possible way.

The two regions also share common features and values, such as a preference for diversity, regional integration and a peaceful and rule-based multi-polar world with strong multilateral organisations.

Priorities

ASEAN was originally created as a mechanism for preventing crises and one of the EU's priorities is also to contribute to supporting regional stability and the fight against terrorism. Through dialogue and other action, its role is to prevent conflict and foster peace and stability. In matters of political dialogue, the Commission believes that ASEM is the most appropriate framework to deal with global issues, while region-specific issues should be dealt with in the ASEAN context. In its opinion, the EU should also play a more active role in the ARF, the ASEAN Regional Forum. Although it actively supports the ASEAN integration process, it recognises that only the ASEAN countries can determine the rhythm of the process.

Support for regional cooperation is also designed to combat terrorism. In the opinion of the EU, action against terrorism not only involves security and public order measures but also political, social, economic and financial governance. It therefore encourages ASEAN to implement a comprehensive strategy, taking care to respect human rights and peaceful political opposition. The EU is also prepared to consider support to any country that requires its assistance for the implementation of UNSC resolution 1373 (on cooperation in the fight against terrorism) and other relevant UN conventions.

With a view to promoting human rights, democratic principles and good governance, the Commission believes that new agreements should all contain the 'essential element' clause. This clause stipulates that respect for fundamental human rights and democratic principles, as laid down in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, underpins the internal and external policies of the parties and constitutes an essential element of the agreement. The parties may also decide to launch human rights-specific bilateral dialogues. Specific cooperation measures should be undertaken to support democratic structures, build the capacity of institutions, improve the rule of law and governance and strengthen civil society. Strengthening institutional and regulatory frameworks and fighting corruption are priorities in the area of good governance.

Another priority is to mainstream justice and home affairs issues in the EU's external relations. Issues of migration, combating organised crime, trafficking in human beings, money laundering, illicit drugs, piracy and counterfeiting should be incorporated systematically into dialogues.

With a view to injecting a new dynamism into regional trade and investment relations, the Commission proposes a trade action plan, the Trans-Regional EU-ASEAN Trade Initiative (TREATI), which is set out in Annex II. This initiative paves the way for a possible free-trade agreement that should only come after the conclusion of the Doha Development Round and be subject to sufficient progress on regulatory convergence.

TREATI proposes that EU-ASEAN cooperation on trade issues should take place on a region-to-region basis and in a context of flexible cooperation. Bilateral dialogues on economic issues should be further supplemented by a dialogue mechanism involving at least two ASEAN countries. Close coordination on technical assistance and capacity-building would be required and each country would have to develop its own road-map setting out the stages and schedule for its participation in the various activities.

Continuing to support the development of less prosperous countries is another priority with poverty reduction as its main goal. The priority issues here are assisting poor countries in their integration in the world economy, governance and human rights, environment and forestry, justice and home affairs issues, the fight against terrorism, trade-related technical assistance, supporting the TREATI process and ASEAN's integration process.

Assistance should be concentrated in a limited number of key areas, based on a sectoral approach, and involve actors from outside the public sector. The Commission will promote trilateral cooperation and twinning arrangements.

The Commission offers a list of sectors in which dialogue and cooperation need to be intensified. Both parties can choose sectors of genuine mutual interest and then opt for a regional or bilateral approach. These sectors and the present situation, specific issues identified and suggested lines of action for each one are described in Annex III. They are as follows:

  • economic and trade issues;
  • justice and home affairs issues;
  • science, technology, research and development;
  • higher education and culture;
  • energy;
  • transport;
  • the information society;
  • statistics.

Institutional framework and resources

The Commission proposes to revitalise ties with South-East Asia through the strengthening of bilateral relations since the renegotiation of the only existing regional agreement - dating from 1980 - is impossible owing to the EU common position on Burma/Myanmar, one of the members of ASEAN. The legal basis for cooperation is the 1992 Regulation on financial and technical assistance to, and economic cooperation with, the developing countries in Latin America and Asia.

For optimum use of the institutional framework (bilateral agreements, ARF, ASEM, etc.) and available resources, the Commission proposes an evaluation based on political and institutional feasibility, the achievement of maximum impact, demand from the region or the country and the best possible use of available resources. It puts forward options for optimising the institutional framework:

  • EU-ASEAN ministerial meetings for regional political dialogue;
  • ASEM summits, ministerial meetings and ARF ministerial meetings on global and security issues;
  • consultations between ASEAN and EC economic affairs ministers;
  • an official bilateral institutional framework for implementation of agreements.

Alternative options are proposed for the optimisation of resources:

  • taking advantage of the network of Commission delegations;
  • improving the quality and delivery of EC external assistance through better strategic programming;
  • looking for greater synergies between EIB and Commission operations.

A new visibility strategy

To counter the lack of mutual awareness, the Commission proposes a coordinated visibility campaign. Efforts should be intensified in the area of academic, scientific and cultural exchanges.

RELATED ACTS

Council Conclusions of 26 January 2004

Last updated: 31.03.2004
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