The 13th ASEAN-EC Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) Meeting was held in Bangkok on 24-27 May 1999. The Meeting was co-chaired by Mr. Anucha Osathanond, Director-General of ASEAN-Thailand and Mr. Emiliano Fossati, Director of South and Southeast Asia, Directorate-General for External Relations of the EC Commission and attended by the delegates and representatives from ASEAN countries, the ASEAN Secretariat, EC Commission and EU Member States.

Back-to-back with this JCC Meeting, four ASEAN-EC Sub-Committees Meetings were also convened, namely Sub-Committee on Trade, Sub-Committee on Economic and Industrial Cooperation, Sub-Committee on Science and Technology, and Sub-Committee on Forests.

A joint response to the crisis

Both sides agreed to work together to meet the challenges raised by the recent economic crisis faced by ASEAN. The European side expressed its support to the ASEAN countries affected by the crisis, and was confident that ASEAN would emerge stronger from its present difficulties. In this respect, the EC stated its willingness to maintain its contribution in the region to support ASEAN’s efforts in its economic recovery process. The EC suggested priority actions on trade, investment and economic restructuring in response to the crisis. Both sides reaffirmed their commitments to further trade and investment liberalisation and to the multilateral trading system, and their determination to fight any protectionist pressures, which might arise from the crisis.

The JCC stressed the importemce of the European continued support and assistance for ASEAN to effectively deal with the economic and financial crisis.

Developments in both regions

Under the Hanoi Plan of Action, ASEAN highlighted its priorities and goals for the future and stressed its determination and commitment to accelerate the implementation of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and the establishment of the ASEAN Investment Area (AIA), and encouraged the EU to make full use of its investment and business opportunities in ASEAN including the investment opportunities offered under the ASEAN Industrial Cooperation Scheme (AICO). In Europe, Economic and Monetary Union and the introduction of the euro shall have a positive impact on economic growth in the EU, which in turn could contribute to growth in other regions such as ASEAN. The creation of a wide and liquid financial market in euro should provide ASEAN with enhanced fund-raising opportunities.

A “new dynamic” in EU-ASEAN relation

The Meeting transcribed into action the decision of the 12th ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting (AEMM) in Singapore in February 1997, which agreed to launch a “new dynamic” in EU-ASEAN relations.

The EU and ASEAN emphasised the importance of the JCC, through continued dialogue, as the mechanism to enhance cooperation in the trade, economic, environment, forestry, and development fields. Both sides recognised the value of fostering relations in all its dimensions by broadening the areas of mutually beneficial cooperation. In the course of this action, the JCC adopted a Work Programme producing a broad vision for future ASEAN-EU relations into the new millenium. Under the Work Programme, they agreed to strengthen cooperation through concrete actions in areas of mutual interests, especially market access, trade facilitation, standards, intellectual property, customs, trade in services, investment, energy, environment, development cooperation, regional integration, science and technology, education and training, cultural cooperation, promotion of mutual understanding, business cooperation, transport, tourism and narcotics.

Both sides held discussions on various trade issues of importance to ASEAN and the EU with a view to finding opportunities to expand trade. Exchanges of views took place on the possibility to conduct regular discussions by experts on market access issues in order to create a climate of full confidence in our trade relations. The Meeting underlined the vital importance of the ASEAN-EU trade and its contribution to Asia’s economic recovery, and declared their commitment to support its balanced growth through the implementation of the Work Programme.

The Meeting took note of the EC’s proposal of a protocol on cooperation in customs matters, which will help in the facilitation of trade between the two regions. They agreed to further examine ways to enhance ASEAN-EU cooperation on customs matters. In this respect, the ASEAN side reiterated its commitments under the ASEAN Plan of Action on Customs.

With a view to strengthening existing mechanisms for cooperation, ASEAN and the EC agreed to establish as new bodies the Sub-Committe on Environment and Sub-Committee on Narcotics. The EC offered to host the first meeting of the Sub-Committee on Environment at the earliest opportunity.

The JCC noted that the Third WTO Ministerial Conference scheduled for the end of 1999 will take a decision on the next round of multilateral negotiations, and will also be considering further broad-based liberalisation.

Strengthening cooperation

Both sides agreed to further strengthen business cooperation especially increased cooperation among the small and medium enterprises. Reference was also made to new cooperation programmes launched since the last JCC meeting such as the Asia Invest, Asia Urbs, and Eco Best Programmes as they open significant opportunities for respective cooperation, in particular between small and medium enterprises and local authorities. They supported the continuation of the programmes, which are constructive towards trade and investment promotion among the private sector such as Junior ASEAN-EU Managers Exchange Programme, Industrialists’ Roundtable, and the ASEAN-EU Partenariat.

The Meeting recognised that the EU has been one of the major Dialogue Partners which has contributed substantially to the development of ASEAN. Both sides reaffirmed their commitments to further develop the region-to-region dimension of their relationship through discussions and exchanges of experience and technical assistance with a view to supporting greater regional integration and strengthening dynamism in ASEAN.

The Meeting stressed the importance of strengthening people-to-people links. Acknowledging the wide range of S&T cooperation activities already built up, special emphasis was placed on deepening and broadening region-to-region cooperation between ASEAN and the EC including at university and training institute level. In this respect, a new programme which will enhance cooperation between EU and ASEAN University Networks was welcomed as a very positive step forward.

The ASEAN-EC JCC Meeting was held in the spirit of friendship and cooperation, and cordial atmosphere. The success of the Meeting will set the tone for closer ASEAN-EU cooperation in the years to come.