Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreements

Our economic relations with Southeast Asia are strong. For many years, the EU has been the main source of foreign direct investment in ASEAN and one of its main trading partners. We have already concluded important free trade agreements with Singapore and Vietnam, as well as with Japan and Korea, and we are negotiating with several other countries, including Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. These agreements have helped to maintain trade despite the pandemic, for example by significantly increasing imports of organic chemicals and essential medicines from Singapore. I am determined to extend our cooperation with aSEAN and to develop our own views on how the EU should involve the entire Indo-Pacific region. As elsewhere, the key question is what the regional order will be. As I said, the agreed rules make states safe, people free and businesses ready to invest. Now, nearly four years later and at the end of President Trump`s term, the United States finds itself outside when another mega-trade deal is reached. Many have spoken out about the wider impact of these decisions. In fact, a document from the Peterson Institute for International Economics states: “The resignations [of India and the United States] reflect similar motivations in both countries, including nationalist politics, on the one hand, and the fear of losing ground to China in economic and strategic competition. At the same time, we need to go further. With ASEAN, we have great ambitions to expand our engagement, from trade to connectivity, from digital transformation to the joint effort to promote regional and global security. We hope to be able to quickly bring our cooperation back to the level of a strategic partnership.

In the face of all that is happening in the world, we see ASEAN as a natural partner and advocate of the same ideas of regional integration and multilateralism. Many years ago, in February 2015, when the Trans-Pacific Partnership was signed, President Obama said that agreements like this allow us to “write the rules of the road in the 21st century.” But history took another turn when President Trump withdrew from the TPP in his first days in office (which eventually advanced without the United States and became the CPTPP). Nevertheless, as the EU, we must be very attentive and aware of the strategic challenges: the Indo-Pacific region is of strategic importance to us. We must strengthen our commitment to ensure that our voice is heard and that the overall architecture of regional cooperation remains open and rules-based. Given the many security crises in our neighbourhood, I must inevitably focus on the events that have occurred near our borders. However, I am convinced that the Asia-Pacific region is our economic neighbourhood. That is why we have an interest in the evolution of the region. Many Member States have already concluded free trade agreements, but there are restrictions. Members make up nearly one-third of the world`s population and account for 29% of the world`s gross domestic product.

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told an online event at the Peterson Institute of International Affairs that the new agreement was outdated. But it is possible that the new “rules of origin” – which officially define where a product comes from – will have the greatest impact. The emergence of this gigantic Asian free trade area should also decisively encourage Africa and Latin America to accelerate their regional integration projects. There is no doubt that the size of the market and the common rules of the RCEP have a direct impact on the investment climate in emerging countries. Both Africa and Latin America should do everything in their power to adapt to a new competitive landscape. “You can work with someone and abhor them, even as a human being. RCEP has done an impressive job of disconnecting from other things,” said Mr. Elms. The RCEP brings together countries that have often maintained delicate diplomatic relations, including China and Japan.