Many Member States already have free trade agreements between them, but there are restrictions. Nevertheless, as the EU, we should be very careful and attentive to the strategic challenges associated with it: the Indo-Pacific region is of strategic importance to us. We must strengthen our commitment to ensuring that our voice is heard and that the overall architecture of regional cooperation remains open and regulated. I am determined to broaden our cooperation with ASEAN and to develop our own views on how the EU should involve the entire Indo-Pacific region. As elsewhere, the key question is what the nature of the regional order will be. As I said, agreed rules make states safe, people free and companies ready to invest. Many years ago, in February 2015, when the Trans-Pacific Partnership was signed, President Obama said that agreements like this allowed us to “write the rules of road traffic in the twenty-first century.” But the story took another turn when President Trump withdrew from the TPP in his early days in office (which ultimately took place anyway without the US and became the CPTPP). Given the many security crises in our neighbourhood, I inevitably have to turn much of my attention to events that are dulling up near our borders. However, I am convinced that the Asia-Pacific region is our economic neighbourhood. That is why we have an interest in the region evolving. At the same time, we must go further. With ASEAN, we have big ambitions to expand our commitment, from trade to connectivity, from digital transformation to joint efforts to promote regional and global security.
We hope to soon be able to elevate our cooperation to the level of a strategic partnership. In the face of all that is happening in the world, we see ASEAN as a natural partner and an equal supporter of regional integration and multilateralism. Now, nearly four years later and at the end of President Trump`s term, the United States finds itself outside when another mega-trade deal is reached. Many spoke about the subsequent impact of these decisions. Indeed, a paper from the Peterson Institute for International Economics suggested that “the resignations [of India and the United States] reflect similar motivations in both countries, including nationalist politics, on the one hand, and fears of losing ground in economic and strategic competition, on the other. Our economic relations with Southeast Asia are strong. For many years, the EU has been the main source of foreign direct investment in ASEAN and one of its main trading partners. We have already concluded important free trade agreements with Singapore and Vietnam, as well as Japan and Korea, and we are in talks with several others, including Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. These agreements have helped maintain trade despite the pandemic, for example by significantly increasing imports of essential organic and pharmaceutical chemicals from Singapore. At an online event at the Peterson Institute of International Affairs, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the new deal was outdated. The RCEP agreement is proof of ASEAN`s success in placing itself at the center of its region, although the major powers tend to weigh in.
ASEAN has also developed an “Indo-Pacific perspective” which, in a context of growing security and political tensions, stresses the need to keep the region open, stable, inclusive and regulated. It is clear that Indopazifik will be the most dynamic region in the world and the center of growth for decades to come. The region`s success in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, certainly compared to Europe and the United States, has further reinforced this trend. . . .