Southeast Asia and the European Union (EU) agreed yesterday (26 April) to take steps toward resuming stalled talks on a free trade agreement between the two regions.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the EU had launched negotiations in 2007, but broke them off in 2009, amid disagreements largely centering on European concerns over ASEAN member Myanmar’s human rights record.
“Senior officials of ASEAN and EU will meet towards the end of the year to take stock and explore the way forward and report back to the ministers,” the two sides said in a joint statement.
The statement was released in Malaysia following discussions between delegations on the sidelines of ASEAN’s annual diplomatic gathering, hosted this year by ASEAN chair Malaysia.
“The EU is committed to have a region-to-region free trade agreement,” European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström told reporters after the talks.
“But it is important that we get it right and that is why we proposed this roadmap, a stock-taking event by the end of the year.”
The EU is already holding separate talks on potential free trade agreements with ASEAN members Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.
It concluded an agreement with Singapore, another ASEAN member, in December 2012.
Indonesia, Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Cambodia round out ASEAN’s membership.
The EU is ASEAN’s second-largest trading partner with total trade amounting to $248 billion in 2014 and was Southeast Asia’s largest source of foreign direct investment in 2014 with $29.1 billion, or 21.3% of foreign inflows to the region, the joint statement said.
Myanmar was plunged into isolation by a military regime that seized power in 1962. But it has won praise for widespread economic and political reforms since it emerged from outright military rule in 2011.
The final negotiations for a free trade agreement between Singapore and the EU were completed in December 2012, with the initialling of the agreement taking place on 20 September 2013.
The EU is negotiating free trade agreements with Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.
The EU remains open to start negotiations with other partners in the region and hopes one day to complete these agreements with a region-to-region trade agreement.
ASEAN as a whole represents the EU's 3rd largest trading partner outside Europe (after the US and China) with more than €235 billion of trade in goods and services in 2012.
The EU is ASEAN's 3rd largest trading partner after China and Japan, accounting for around 13% of ASEAN trade.
The EU is by far the largest investor in ASEAN countries. EU companies have invested an average €13.6 billion annually in the region (2005-2012).
The EU's main exports to ASEAN are chemical products, machinery and transport equipment. The main imports from ASEAN to the EU are machinery and transport equipment, agricultural products as well as textiles and clothing.