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The EU and ASEAN should react to the worldwide retreat from globalisation by boosting their efforts towards greater partnership, participants told a Friends of Europe Policy Summit.
The Association of South East Asian Nations was set up in 1967 at a time of global turmoil to promote greater political and economic integration. The past few decades have provided its members with a strong framework for economic growth, in particular the trend towards global free trade. As ASEAN reaches age 50, however, there are signs of a backlash against globalisation in Europe and the United States.
Greater cooperation between the EU and ASEAN could boost world trade. ASEAN is the EU’s third largest trading partner and the EU is ASEAN’s second, with bilateral trade reaching €201bn in 2015. The two partners have launched negotiations for a comprehensive air transport agreement, which would be the first accord to lay out an “open skies” or “open aviation area” arrangement between two major regional trading blocs. In addition, on 10 March, trade leaders from the blocs, including EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, announced the resumption of work towards a region-to-region FTA.
Efforts to boost economic integration between ASEAN members include work to develop the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which will promote free trade and the flow of skilled labour.
At its birth, ASEAN countries sought a forum for their small- and medium-sized countries amid a world beset by ideological tensions. “Southeast Asia wanted just a small stage, so that we would feel comfortable and maintain our own identities and profiles,” said Surin Pitsuwan, who was ASEAN Secretary-General from 2008 to 2012. Since then, the region has thrived, building platforms and networks, and the original five members – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand – have been joined by five more: Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam.