EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and her counterparts from ASEAN agreed last week to take new steps towards resuming free trade talks between the two regions. Speaking after the annual EU-ASEAN ministerial consultations held in Manila, 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 relationship but 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.”
Senior officials will now start working out the parameters of the negotiations for a future ASEAN-EU region-to-region agreement. The participants also agreed to organize expert meetings in new areas of cooperation such as public procurement, e-commerce, and simplifying trade for small and medium-sized enterprises. 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.
On the sidelines, Commissioner Malmström also met bilaterally with trade and economic Ministers from several ASEAN countries, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
By Fraser Cameron, Director
Asked in Washington last Friday (10 February) whether the EU was ready to take on a greater leadership role, Federica Mogerhini gave a clear answer. ‘Yes, we are ready’ said the EU’s foreign policy chief.
Given the international criticism and uncertainty surrounding Donald Trump’s entry into the White House could this indeed be an opportunity for the EU to come of age on the global stage?
At first sight the idea may sound far-fetched what with Brexit, the refugee crisis and the rise of populism throughout Europe. But the EU remains the largest market in the world, the largest provider of development assistance and the strongest supporter of the multilateral system. The European political system has been shaken up but to date there are no populist parties governing any major member state. It is this boring reliability that other powers, especially in Asia, are beginning to recognise as a strength, especially given the unpredictability surrounding the future of US foreign policy.
Park Geun-hye has become the first democratically elected South Korean president to be forced from office, after the country’s constitutional court upheld a parliamentary vote to impeach her over a corruption and cronyism scandal that could see her face criminal charges. She will immediately forfeit the executive immunity she enjoyed as president, meaning prosecutors can summon, question and possibly arrest her. There is now likely to be a turbulent period while a new President is elected. There are unlikely to be any new foreign policy initiatives for some time.
The Constitutional Court formally removed Park from office on 10 March, upholding an impeachment motion filed by politicians in December amid suspicions that she colluded with a confidante (Ms Choi Soon-sil) to extort money and favours from companies and allowed the friend to secretly manipulate state affairs.
The ruling ended a power struggle that had consumed the nation for months and marked a stunning downfall for Park, who convincingly defeated her liberal opponent in 2012 with overwhelming support from older South Koreans, who remembered her father, a former South Korean leader, as a hero.
The court said it could not find conclusive evidence for most of these charges. But it was able to rule that Ms Park had divulged state secrets to Choi Soon-sil, a close friend who amassed a personal fortune of $20m. Park also colluded to help her extort funds from conglomerates and profit from two cultural organisations that Ms Choi controlled.
Opening the event on 15 March, Fraser Cameron drew attention to the many uncertainties surrounding trade policy. What would happen to TPP? Is there an opportunity for the EU to play a leadership role? Could China now dominate the trade scene with RCEP? Could the EU-Japan FTA be completed in the coming months?
EU-ASIA Centre is a think tank dedicated to promoting closer relations between the EU and Asia.
1 March 2017
20 February 2017