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We closed the ASEM 8 in Brussels in October 2010 and today I have the privilege of opening this Summit with you.
Let me thank you for the warm hospitality and congratulate you for hosting this Summit. This is a testimony to Laos’ economic progress and to its increasing international and regional role.
ASEM is a unique platform of dialogue and cooperation that gathers half of the world's GDP, up to 60% of the global trade and around 60% of the world's population. In 2010 three new members joined, and today we have the pleasure of welcoming Norway, Switzerland and Bangladesh. This is a testimony to ASEM’s relevance.
In the sixteen years since ASEM was launched Asia and Europe have changed considerably. Asia is a strong economic player, has lifted hundred of millions of people out of poverty, it is self-confident on the world stage.
Europe has changed, too. Countries from the east and west Europe joined their forces together. The European Union has become the main political expression of our continent.
Our societies have experienced irreversible transformations. Our interdependence is greater than ever. The worldwide financial crisis and its aftermath showed it very clearly.
The EU is firmly committed to its responsibilities as a strong world actor and a strong partner for Asia. Not only do some of our strategic partners belong to this part of the world, but the whole Asian continent has actually become a region of strategic importance for us.
Economy and finance is of course a driver in our relations: in 2011, EU trade with Asian ASEM countries amounted to nearly € 900 billion. We are currently negotiating a number of Free Trade Agreements with Asian partners - with some of them we already have - with the aim to increase further market access and job opportunities with mutual benefit. With other we have already excellent trade relations and we hope to engage soon in a similar effort.
The EU and its Member States remain also a key source of Foreign Direct Investments and the EU is now able as a Union to negotiate and conclude investment agreements. The EU is also the largest provider of development assistance.
In parallel, we are strengthening our political relations. The EU has concluded or is negotiating Partnership and Cooperation agreements, or equivalent agreements, with many Asian countries. On the basis of common priorities we cooperate to tackle regional and global challenges and to preserve peace. It is important that State structures adapt to the changing reality of our societies responding to a world that more than ever requires openness and freedom.
2012 has been an important year for the relations between the EU and Asia. Between President Barroso, the High Representative and myself we have visited many Asian countries, met with you and your ministerial representatives in your capitals, in Brussels or on the occasion of major multilateral encounters, like in the G-20 and the UN.
We have also maintained close contacts with ASEAN, partner of the EU for 35 years now. We held an ASEAN-EU ministerial meeting in Brunei and High Representative Ashton participated in the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) in Phnom Penh where we signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. This paves the way for the EU to become even more fully involved in the emerging pan-regional architecture.
The overarching theme you have suggested for our discussions - Friends for Peace, Partners for Prosperity - summarises the task ahead of us: cooperating to preserve peace and stability, to promote democracy and respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, to support sustainable development and combat climate change.
These tasks will maintain their full relevance when we meet again in 2014, in Brussels, where the European Union will have the honour to invite you for ASEM 10.
We have a historical responsibility: safeguarding peace in our two regions so devastated by wars in the past and working together for prosperity and growth in an interdependent world. In some way, we all belong to the Eurasian continent connected by geography and history.