Faced with Donald Trump’s unilateralism, leaders of more than 50 European and Asian countries put aside their differences on Friday (19 October) and upheld multilateral cooperation on all fronts during a summit in Brussels.
“This whole exchange is absolutely vital particularly in a time when multilateralism is in question,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told the press after the meeting with Asian counterparts.
The meeting comes amid growing tensions due to trade dispute between the US and both European and Asian counterparts, particularly China, just a few days after US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross blamed the EU for a lack of progress in trade talks.
Although there is no explicit mention of the US in the joint declaration, “you can read between the lines the key messages; climate change is real, trade is good, protectionism is bad and we have to stick to international agreements,” EU sources pointed out.
The joint declaration was slightly modified to accommodate “some countries’ sensitivities,” EU sources said without elaborating.
The leaders highlighted that the recent development in the global sphere “has boosted the relevance” of the Europe-Asia cooperation, in the defence of an “effective multilateralism and the rules-based international order.”
“What we agreed together matters not only to us but to the entire world,” the EU’s High Representative Vice-President Federica Mogherini added.
The EU is working to strengthen commercial links with third countries. During the ASEM summit, leaders underlined their “joint commitment to open, free, and non-discriminatory trade.”
Commercial relations, partners agreed, can only happen on a “level playing field”. They also committed to “fighting all forms of protectionism, including protectionist unilateral measures and unfair trade practices,” which seemed to hint at US tariffs on steel and aluminium.
European and Asian partners agreed on working to reform the World Trade Organisation as well. “It is important that we have a fair equitable rule-based trade,” Chancellor Kurz underlined.
“Maintaining an open world economy and upholding the rules-based multilateral trading system, with the World Trade Organization at its core,” leader said, it is “vital.”
Therefore, European and Asian partners stressed their commitment to “comply with WTO rules,” but also to make the dispute settlement system “more effective”.
EU-Asian commercial ties
Earlier this week, the EU’s trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström announced the adoption of the EU-Vietnam trade and investment agreement.
Although the deal has still to be ratified by the Council and the Parliament, this “ambitious” trade deal could “pave the way” for an agreement with the other Asian counterparts.
“It is not immediately around the corner, but it is definitely a goal that we have,” the Trade Commissioner added. The deal, the Commissioner stressed, is a positive signal in times when international trade is “under serious threat.”
Also on Friday (19 October), leaders celebrated the signing ceremony of the trade and investment agreement with Singapore, the EU’s largest trade partner in the region.
During a summit with China earlier this year, leaders agreed to boost negotiations to conclude a trade agreement with the economic giant as well.
Here it is. The EU-Singapore free trade agreement. pic.twitter.com/rK5iKHZcqf
— Jüri Laas (@jurilaas) October 19, 2018
Paris and Iran on the table
Trump’s decision to withdrawal from both the Paris Agreement and the nuclear deal with Iran was floating in the air as well.
In their joint statement, European and Asian partners reaffirmed “strong commitment to the Paris Agreement” and their intention to work towards strengthening the global response to climate change in light of the upcoming COP 24 in Katowice (Poland).
On the Iran deal, leaders stressed that preserving it “is a matter of respecting international agreements, and promoting international security, peace and stability.”
Furthermore, they agreed that lifting of the sanctions constitutes “an essential part” of the nuclear deal, “alongside full and effective implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments”.
EU support to talks on Korean peninsula
European and Asian partners highlighted the positive recent political developments on the Korean Peninsula. “We are solidly on the road to a peaceful resolution,” South Korea Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told the press.
“This would not have happened without the support of Federica (High Representative Mogherini) and her team and the European leaders as well,” the Korean minister stressed.
As to make this peaceful solution possible, leaders stressed the need for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea “to completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle all its nuclear and other Weapons of Mass Destruction, ballistic missiles and related programmes and facilities.”
South Korea has an ambitious trade agreement with the EU in place. Questioned over the future relationship with the United Kingdom after Brexit, Kang Kyung-wha said the South Korean president was in close contact with Theresa May.
The 28 EU member states together with Norway and Switzerland met in Brussels with its Asian partners, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japan’s Shinzo Abe, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
“Together we represent a real global power,” Mogherini stressed.