Events & News


ASEAN and the EU: Natural Partners

Mr Jan Willem Blankert, Mr Raffaele Quarto and Mr Walter Kennes

05 Oct 2012

SR 502, Level 5, NTU@one-north campus,Executive Centre 11 Slim Barracks Rise (off North Buona Vista Road), Singapore 138664



The EU and ASEAN have a longstanding partnership, and trade and investments between the two regions have grown steadily over the years. The three panelists elucidated on the trade and commercial links, aspects of developmental cooperation and the mutual benefits of moving towards greater strategic engagement and a deepening of the region-to-region dialogue.

Jan Willem Blankert (Special Adviser on ASEAN, EU Delegation to Indonesia) delivered his candid assessment of the 2015 goals for an ASEAN Community –he did not think they would be all implemented or achieved in time. Nonetheless Mr Blankert said rather than meeting strict deadlines, it is the process itself of moving towards greater integration that matters more for the region. The visibility of ASEAN in the media around the world has tended to focus on two issues –Myanmar and the South China Sea. This has distracted people from ASEAN’s achievements in driving the ASEAN Regional Forum or its relatively sound economic conditions as reflected for instance in its trade surplus with the EU. He also praised ASEAN’s outward-looking character, especially at a time when the EU is inward-looking due to its sovereign debt crises. As to the EU’s role in Southeast Asia, he highlighted its relatively neutral stances in foreign policy – as compared to other major powers – as an asset here.

Walter Kennes (DG for Development Cooperation, European Commission) spoke on the EU’s role in supporting development work in ASEAN countries, outlining various EU programmes such as the EuropeAid Programme for Sustainable Consumption and Production (aka SWITCH Asia), the Action Plan for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) and ASEAN Regional Integration Support by the EU (ARISE)), which deal with a range of issues from sustainable consumption and production to technical assistance in border management to support for capacity building of the ASEAN Secretariat. With the EU-ASEAN economic partnership estimated to be worth about 1.2 trillion euros, the EU is also keen to enhance the FTA negotiation capacity of ASEAN countries through other such programmes. He characterised the EU as a ‘natural supporter of regional integration’, although he underscored that the EU model cannot be a blueprint for other parts of the world. Mr Kennes cited an over-burdened ASEAN Secretariat as a weakness in ASEAN’s potential as a regional entity.

Raffaele Quarto (Head of the Economic and Trade Section, First Counsellor, EU Delegation to Singapore) outlined the economic characteristics of the EU and ASEAN, and cited the strong economic ties they share. At a time when EU companies are moving production operations out of China due to rising costs, Mr Quarto identified ASEAN’s potential as an alternative base for these companies. In further fulfilling this potential, he cited the high tariffs and non-trade barriers of some ASEAN member states as obstacles that should be removed. On the EU, he affirmed the bloc as a central pillar in the world economy, and emphasised that the EU’s commitment to opening up its markets further, despite the European sovereign debt crises.

During the ensuing panel discussion with the audience, questions were raised as to whether the negative media reportage on the debt crises in the EU has had the effect of diminishing its international image, and whether protectionism is expected to be a problem in Europe. Here, some of the panelists were quick to point out the nature of trade policy in the EU – which is Brussels-led – as an example of the ‘beauty of the EU’. Tendencies towards protectionism by some member states are kept under control because trade policy is taken at the regional level. Hence much-needed international trade activity is not hindered. This, and other strengths of the EU, are expected to help the EU countries pull through their current difficulties and emerge stronger in the long run.