Events & News


The EU in Trade Negotiations with ASEAN: Strategic Competitor or Normative Actor?

Prof Hubert Zimmermann, Visiting Fellow, EU Centre in Singapore Professor for International Relations, Philipp University of Marburg, Germany

24 Feb 2012

Level 13, ESSEC Amphitheatre, 100 Victoria Street, National Library Building, Singapore 188064

5.30 – 7.00pm


Zimmermann-ESSEC 137 

In his second public lecture of his visit, EUC visiting fellow Professor Hubert Zimmermann shared his perspective on the European Union’s (EU) trade policy and its trade negotiation strategy and process. He argued that although the EU trade policy framework has been reformed in the past few years and is now more open to influence by civil society and the European Parliament (EP), the EU remains a very strategic actor.

He explained the changes in the EU’s trade policy as a result of a new trade policy agenda pursued under the Global Europe strategy (launched in 2006), in part because of the slow progress in the Doha round of WTO trade negotiations. In 2009, the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon brought about a number of changes that also affected trade policy, now more closely integrated within the EU’s overall foreign policy framework, and the EP’s increased power gives it more influence over the ratification process. What is significant is that alongside these changes, the EU’s multilateral approach to international trade policy also shifted as a result.

In the region, the EU is ASEAN’s second overall trading partner and largest source of FDI (€179 billion in 2009), while ASEAN is the EU’s fifth largest market. Multilateral trade negotiations with ASEAN were launched in 2007, though a bilateral approach toward the region was soon adopted, which Prof Zimmermann attributed to the different levels of development and diversity of economies in the region. He also cited Myanmar as a cause for the failure of the EU-ASEAN FTA, but stopped short of calling it the decisive factor.

Prof Zimmermann spoke briefly about the characteristics of the bilateral agreements being negotiated between ASEAN members and the EU, highlighting the diversity of liberalisation and development in the region. Singapore represents 29 per cent of the EU’s trade with ASEAN and 55 per cent of FDI, and as such is the EU’s largest economic partner in the region. However, without an FTA, European corporations are at a competitive disadvantage in Singapore, especially as Singapore already has FTAs with many of its major trade partners. Negotiations which began in March 2010, have been rather straightforward and expected to be completed by the second half of 2012. A strong commercial agenda has been pushed by the European Services Forum (ESF), and as agricultural and environmental matters have been less of an issue in this FTA, the only divisive issue among member states is investment protection. As normative issues only play a small role in this FTA, it has not attracted much interest from the EP. This is in contrast to the EU’s FTA negotiations with Malaysia, in which sustainability issues have been a sticking point, and has attracted NGO criticism that has already fed down to the EP. It is for this reason that Prof Zimmermann believes the ratification process for the Malaysian FTA might be difficult.  Thus, the EU-Malaysia FTA might become a real test case where the EU has to balance its normative values with its commercial interests.

The audience took the opportunity during the Q&A segment to ask Prof Zimmermann about the desirability of FTAs with the EU, given the euro crisis and current economic outlook in the EU; in response he reminded the audience that the EU will always remain an important market, with or without the euro crisis. He also answered questions about the EU’s normative role and influence it wields in negotiating FTA. However, he said that he does not believe values will be the most important point in the EU’s trade negotiations with third countries, even though it is becoming an increasingly important issue – and that it will continue to concentrate mostly on commercial and strategic interests.

The lecture was followed by the launch of the resource package for teachers of GCE ‘A’ Level Economics, ‘Globalisation & the European Union’, compiled by the EU Centre in Singapore. It is a quick primer to the EU’s trade policy, its role in international trade, and includes a chapter on the EU and Free Trade Agreements.