Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
During our meeting last year, we stressed the importance of the EU-ASEAN Partenariat and decided to advance in the implementation of the Singapore Ministerial Declaration. Our objective was to firstly hold the Joint Co-operation Committee. This, we succeeded. Let me thank Thailand through you Mr Chairman, for the excellent atmosphere in which this 13th meeting of the JCC took place.
Discussions by participants were of a high standard, and remarkable progress was achieved. It should be our main priority today to encourage a rapid implementation of the work programme.
The JCC reaffirmed the growing need for our regions to work together more closely on economic matters. The recent economic crisis has revealed the high level of interdependency between Europe and Asia.
At the London Summit, Asian and European leaders made an important pledge to alleviate the crisis by maintaining an open trading system. The European Union has respected this pledge by keeping its market open despite the substantial impact of the crisis on our trade balance. An important achievement of the JCC has been to reaffirm the determination of both sides to fight protectionist pressures at a time when there has been a growing tendency in ASEAN to raise new trade barriers.
The economic situation in the South East Asia region is now stabilising and even improving in some areas. This is a very comforting sign. The Commission considers, however, that vigilance must be maintained in order to complete the reforms undertaken in response to the crisis and to deal with its dramatic consequences.
Reforms have been introduced in response to the crisis. These efforts are most welcome and must persist. The setting up of an environment conducive to renewed growth requires a stable and predictable framework of laws and regulations. Investors need transparency in legal and regulatory systems. The Commission has indicated that it is ready to support regional action towards structural and administrative reforms.
The crisis has had deep social repercussions that currently remain unresolved. The increase in poverty and deterioration in living, health and education standards need continuous attention. As the future looks brighter for the economies of the region, it is vitally important that special support is given to the poorest groups. Development aid is still a priority for the EC. We shall continue, in our assistance, targeting the poorest categories of the population and the less favoured regions. However, donors cannot drive the fight against the spread of poverty; we trust that governments in ASEAN will give special attention to those people most affected by the crisis.
Environmental issues are also of great concern. Due to the crisis, the environment has been given a lower priority, and renewed emphasis has been put on agriculture at the expense of conservation. An ASEAN-EC Sub-committce on environment will meet for the 1st time in Brussels this autumn and the Commission looks forward to this opportunity to develop a deeper co-operation in this essential area.
The EU and ASEAN have a mutual interest too in a comprehensive new WTO round. The new round should cover both traditional market access negotiations and new rules on issues such as investment, competition, trade facilitation, procurement and the environment. The overall objective of sustainable development should be borne in mind throughout the negotiations. The EU believes that the new round will have to address the interests of developing countries with a view to facilitating their integration in the world trading system.
These are examples of significant bilateral and global challenges. To cope with the task it is appropriate and welcome that EU and ASEAN have embarked on a “new dynamic” and I am confident that we shall find the most effective way to succeed in this undertaking.