“Free trade, fair trade is not just a slogan for Europe; it is in our DNA since our foundation in 1957. In a troubled time for global trade, we will stand up for the prosperity and progress it promises. We will stand up for the benefits it offers our citizens. We will stand up for the multilateral, rules based system that underpins it,” declared Dr Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Trade at the Presidential Distinguished Lecture at the Singapore Management University on 8 March 2017.
Speaking to 300 students, diplomats, government officials and members of the public on “The Future of EU Trade Policy in Asia”, Commissioner Malmström said that the EU, which marks its 60th anniversary this year since the Treaty of Rome in 1957, is the world’s biggest trader because “[w]e recognise the role that openness brings to our economy.”
The Commissioner said that although both the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and EU’s own proposed trade agreement with the US – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – are wrapped in uncertainty, the EU is determined to advance its own trade talks with partners around the world including Canada, Japan, Mexico and Mercosur.
Turning to ASEAN, Commissioner Malmström said the EU’s trade agenda is also gathering momentum in the region. In 2014, Singapore became the second Asian country, after South Korea, to conclude a free trade agreement with the EU. The EU has also concluded an agreement with Vietnam and is currently in negotiations with Indonesia and the Philippines. Commissioner Malmström also expressed strong support for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
The Commissioner ended her speech by emphasising that the EU trade policy is transparent, engaged and democratic; it is also based on values, such as human rights, the rule of law, protecting the environment, equality and gender rights.
Commissioner Malmström made those remarks at the end of her two-day visit to Singapore. She then continued her trip in Southeast Asia to attend the 15th ASEAN Economic Ministers – European Union Trade Consultations on 10 March in Manila, the Philippines. The EU and ASEAN said they would try to revive plans for a trade deal, as European countries look to tap the region’s strong growth and ASEAN countries see the EU a more important trading partner than a post-Brexit Britain. During the meeting, it was decided to establish a framework for talks to restart on a region-to-region trade agreement but there was no targeted time-frame.
The EU and ASEAN launched talks towards a pact in 2007 but abandoned the process two years later. The initial negotiations were halted in large part due to the complexities of setting common standards among ten Southeast Asian countries with various political systems and stark differences in the size of their economies and populations. Euractiv said human rights problems were also an issue for many ASEAN states then, creating an obstacle for the EU given its requirement to consider human rights in its trade policies.
Cecilia Malmström, EU Trade Commissioner’s Full Speech at SMU can be downloaded HERE.
(Image Credit: Singapore Management University)
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