JAKARTA (Feb 13) – The European Community has awarded 4 million Euros (about US$4.7 million) to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for economic development under the ASEAN Programme for Regional Integration Support (APRIS).

The European Union External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, who signed the  financing agreement in Brussels on behalf of the EC said: “APRIS is expected to act as a catalyst by way of sharing experience and know-how on key issues for ASEAN’s regional cooperation and integration, and in particular, regional economic integration.”

Mr. Patten expressed hope that the programme will help ASEAN forge ahead in its goal of establishing an economic community.

ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong, who co-signed the agreement in Jakarta said: “APRIS is an important and timely programme to deepen our economic relations and support the economic integration efforts of ASEAN. I am sure that the experience, know-how and advances of the EU in integrating Europe will be very useful to ASEAN in moving its integration process.”

APRIS is a four-year project launched this year totaling 4.5 million Euros, with the ASEAN Secretariat funding the remaining half a million Euros. APRIS is aimed at strategic planning and policy development to enhance the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) by promoting simplification and harmonization of Customs procedures. The project will also contribute to financial integration through the standardization of legislation on financial institutions and development of policies that will stimulate trade in financial services.

Technical assistance and funding will also be channeled towards the harmonization of statistics in trade, services and foreign direct investments (FDIs) for economic analysis. Assistance will also be given to ASEAN to monitor, forecast and address the employment impact of economic restructuring arising from trade liberalization and economic integration.

APRIS will also explore the link between trade and environment, determining the implications of international environmental agreements on ASEAN countries and developing a common approach to deal with transnational environmental problems affecting Southeast Asia.

Developing information and communications technology (ICT) capacity for ASEAN countries and a regional ICT strategy is also on the cards. EU experts will also share their insight and knowledge on best practices in attracting and facilitation FDIs.

Institution-building is another key are of focus in APRIS, with training programmes, seminars, exchanges of officials and study tours being organized under this project to boost cooperation between ASEAN and the EC.