Some 51 foreign ministers representing 60% of global GDP are meeting in Luxembourg today and tomorrow (6 November) in bid to build bridges between the EU and Asia – with whom at least eight Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are in the offing.
Opening the two-day ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) in Luxembourg, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini described Asia as “at the very heart of the European Union’s external policy”.
That is despite the fact that several bilateral FTAs with ASEAN states have been put on hold – such as the one with Thailand, suspended since the military coup of 2014.
And that others, such as the one with Malaysia, will have to meet up to the new ethical dimension imposed by Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom’s “Trade for All” policy, announced last month.
That is designed to promote human rights and anti-corruption measures in partner states.
Welcoming the 51 foreign ministers – the EU’s 28 members states, plus Switzerland and Norway – and 21 from Asia, Mogherini called the new trade strategy “the most ambitious ever”.
But she was forced to admit that – in the wake of the refugee and euro crisis – Brussels was in no position “to teach lessons of integration” to the ten member ASEAN.
Instead, she promised to “share expertise and lessons learned” instead of attempting to “transpose our model”.
In a speech the previous evening to an ASEF Young Leaders summit, Mogherini admitted it had been “painful to watch some of our member states build fences at their borders”.
FTAs have already been agreed with South Korea, Singapore and Vietnam, with Malaysia, Thailand and Japan were classified by Mogherini as “ongoing” – despite the mothballing of the Thailand talks after the military junta seized power in May 2014.
Mogherini reiterated the Commission’s intention to pursue FTAs with Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Indonesia – plus, more distantly, a full EU-ASEAN FTA.
“We need to connect European and Asian economies. There are more goods and services travelling between Europe and Asia than across the Atlantic. The potential is huge,” Mogherini said.
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In fact, trade will be relegated to talks on the margins of the 48-hour conference.
The main items on the agenda are climate change (ahead of the COP21 Paris talks in December), “connectivity” and the future of the ASEM (which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year with a meeting in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia) and security.
Entering the talks, Mogherini told reporters she had already held talks with the Pakistan government’s national security adviser, Sartaj Aziz, on migration flows coming from his country.
Asked how the talks went, she replied, “very positive […] we already have a bilateral agreement between the EU and Pakistan for return and re-admission.
“The point is the smooth implementation of the agreements. I found readiness and willingness to cooperate in an operational way and to make sure that returns are happening for real and this is something that we will follow up in the coming weeks to make sure that this happens.”
Friday’s continuation of the talks sees a two-and-a-half hour private round table discussion and closing ceremony. Thursday night sees a gala dinner.
The meeting is being hosted by Luxembourg as the rotating European Union president.