Ladies & Gentlemen,
On behalf of my ASEAN colleagues, I would like to welcome His Excellency Mr. Wolfgang Schuessel, Vice Chancellor and Federal Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Austria, who is leading the EU Troika, His Excellency Mr. Derek Fatchett, minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, his Excellency Mr. Werner Hoyer, Minister of State in the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany and His excellency Mr. Manuel Marin, Vice President of the European Commission, to the 31st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting/ Post Ministerial Conferences in Manila, the Philippines.
I am delighted that, in co-chairing this meeting, I am also joined by my ASEAN colleagues His Excellency Mr. Domingo L. Siazon Jr., Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines, and His excellency Mr. Nguyen Manh Cam. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and other senior officials of ASEAN member countries.
ASEAN has long valued its relations with the European Union. Our relations have grown from strength to strength and have shown dynamism during the past two decades, enabling our cooperation to expand and cover many areas in response to the changing international environment. ASEAN attaches great importance to the economic and development assistance rendered by the EU which, among others, have helped us in alleviating poverty, upgrading skills and developing human resources capability, improving our technological potential, increasing our economic competitiveness as well as developing the institutions to encourage trade and development.
Our long and fruitful relationship is also largely attributed to the fact that we have much to offer. ASEAN is an important market for European goods and services and can serve as a springboard to the Asia-Pacific region. Meanwhile, the European market is a major attraction for ASEAN exports. Trade relations between the two regions have expanded satisfactorily. In real terms, the value of total trade has increased five-fold in less than 20 years, that is, from 17 billion US dollars in 1980 to 100 billion US dollars in 1977. Meanwhile, the EU is one of the leading investors in ASEAN EU’s investment has helped generate economic growth in the region while bringing about good returns to the investors. These positive aspects reflect the fact that the relationship has indeed served our mutual interests.
Our political dialogue has deepened and become more mature. I need not cite how ASEAN and the EU, on various occasions, have cooperated closely on issues based on common principles which we support, and how we have succeeded in overcoming issues of differences by finding ways to address them in an open-minded manner. In fact, our annual consultation such as this one, permits both sides to exchange views on key regional and international issues, thus helping us to gain a better perception of each other’s position.
In keeping with the interdependent environment and the dynamism of ASEAN economic growth during the last decade, it is timely that ASEAN and the EU seek view energetic cooperation. By pursuing the “Spirit of Karlsruhe” of 1994 and taking into consideration the list of recommendations formulated and strongly articulated by the ASEAN-EU Eminent Persons Group, the 21th ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting in Singapore last year has successfully laid down new directives for ASEAN-EU relationship, aimed at consolidating the relations through the strengthening of political dialogue, the enhancing of economic and development cooperation, and the promotion of people-to-people interaction and interregional strategy.
In this attempt, we welcome the various steps taken by the EU over the past few years to strengthen ASEAN-EU relations, starting with the EU’s adoption of policy guidelines on “Towards a New Asia Strategy,” followed with policy documents on “Creating a new Dynamic in EU-ASEAN Relations” and “Proposed Content of a Package for Future Action.” The EU’s latest initiative in proposing the “Work Progamme for Future Action in ASEAN-EU Relations” for discussion with ASEAN is a practical measure to develop ASEAN-EU relations. The Work Programme is now carefully crafted to procedure a sound and acceptable joint work plan for our mutual benefit. Through close consultations, several areas of cooperation have been identified in the Work Programme, namely market access, trade facilitation, standards, intellectual property, trade in services, customs, investment, energy, environment, science and technology as well as projects on regional integration, development cooperation and the promotion of people-to-people links.
So, we both have ideas on what we wish to jointly strive for in the future. Our immediate task is to demonstrate our political will, strengthen our cooperation and translate the vision into reality. However, it is unfortunate that we have lost some opportunities which we should have grasped. Some basic differences in our positions have prevented our cooperation from making further progress. As such, it is quite a disappointment that we were unable to convene the 31th ASEAN-EC Joint Cooperation Committee scheduled to be held in November last year. If we are to advance our relations, we should exercise our full efforts to break the impasse and find a practical and acceptable solution to the problem.
At this juncture, it is inevitable to mention the regional financial and economic difficulties that have caused concern to our major trading partners including the European Union the concern that the ASEAN dynamism has ended and that uncertainties would prevail in the region. We have to admit that the current crisis we are facing is quite severe and full recovery in the near future is still uncertain. But we are fully confident that the crisis could be managed and resolved over time. Our economic fundamentals are still strong. The present crisis provides the affected countries with the opportunity to review and pursue macroeconomic policies so that their economies will become stronger, more disciplined , more resilient, capable of contributing towards a vibrant global economic community.
I cannot forego this opportunity to express our appreciation to the EU for the financial and technical assistance extended through various international organizations such as the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), IMF and World Bank. In addition, at ASEM 2, Europe reaffirmed the support for and confidence in the Asia economies affected by the financial crisis. Furthermore, the assistance provided for establishing the ASEM Trust Fund at the World Bank render technical assistance in areas such as restructuring of the financial sector and measures to alleviate the social impact caused by the financial crisis as well as trade financing arrangements are positive developments which are illustrative of the support and understanding of our European friends.
As ASEAN is faced with a severe liquidity squeeze, international support is needed to roll-over short term debt and maintain ASEAN’s credit line. Such a procedure would help in alleviating the financial burden of the financial institutions and further facilitate the adjustment process of the business sector. With the rapid spread of the responses would be essential for the speedy economic recovery of this region as well as prevention of other similar occurrences in the future. In this light, we would certainly appreciate it if the European financial institutions could assist in the provision of flexible arrangements with a view to facilitating the business transactions with ASEAN during this period of economic difficulty.
Whatever difficulties we face, ASEAN intends to keep our markets open and facilitate further the flow of investment as well as to commit ourselves to the trade liberalization process. We would continue pursuing economic cooperation with our partners as planned, including with the EU, in order to further integrate our economies into the global economy. With the on-going progress in implementing, the ASEAN Free Trade Area and the ASEAN Industrial Cooperation Scheme and with the ASEAN Investment Area to be realized, ASEAN will be an attractive region to trade and foreign investment. We wish to invite the EU to seize the business opportunities available in the region.
As outlined, it would be productive for both sides to focus on the potentials for future cooperation and provide strong support when it is needed. I hope that in the years ahead we can cooperate even more closely to bring further progress to ASEAN-EU relations. One practically way is to fully take into consideration the value and importance of overall relations while carefully managing the differences and to actively pursue the positive aspects of our cooperation. Thailand, as the current Country Coordinator, will continue to do our best to help advance the ASEAN-EU partnership.