Jakarta, May 6 (ANTARA) – Indonesia, current chair of ASEAN, is leading an effort to foster economic and trade cooperation between ASEAN and the European Union, two regions if combined together would form a huge market of one billion population and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$16.7 trillion.
In order to realize this, ASEAN and the European Union are now in a process to conclude a Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (CPA), according to Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu said.
The first ASEAN-EU Business Summit was held on Thursday at the Jakarta Convention Center. Mari said some ASEAN countries were also bilaterally conducting negotiations with the EU partners regarding the formulations of the agreement.
ASEAN which is resolved to establish an integrated ASEAN Community in 2015 can learn a lesson from the experience of the European Community for the development of its regional cooperation.
In its capacity as the ASEAN chair 2011, Indonesia as part of strengthening ASEAN-EU cooperation, will emphasize three priorities in this week`s ASEAN Summit, namely formulating steps to achieve the ASEAN Community in 2015, to turn ASEAN as a safe, peaceful and stable region and to promote a post-ASEAN Community 2015 initiative to face global challenges.
A peaceful, stable and integrated ASEAN is expected to be able to face challenges. And in this regard it needs a lesson from the EU Community.
“Europe has a much longer experience in economic integration and community building. ASEAN has and will continue to learn from the European experience,” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said when opening the first ASEAN-EU Business Summit at the Jakarta Convention Center (JCC).
During the opening of the ASEAN-EU Business Summit, which was held ahead of the 18th ASEAN Summit to be held at the Jakarta Convention Center from May 7-8, 2011, the president stressed the importance for the two sides to have a formal economic cooperation agreement.
“This includes discussing a formal economic cooperation agreement between ASEAN and Europe,” he said at the Business Summit which was attended by around 400 businessmen from European and Southeast Asian counties.
The business summit itself was seen as a milestone in the history of the two regions` business relations. “I hope that this event will enable us to better deal with the existing challenges,” Chief Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa said meanwhile adding that to be able to follow up on the summit there would be more business-to-business and business-to-government contacts.
Director for international trade cooperation of the Trade Ministry Gusmardi Bustami said talks in the ASEAN-EU Business Summit would focus on five sectors, namely infrastructure, agribusiness, pharmacies, automotive and services
He said that the European Union which grouped 27 European countries was one of the main export destinations of products from the ASEAN countries which have a combined population of 500 million. If the markets of the two regions (ASEAN-EU) are combined, it will reach a population of one billion with a total GDP of 16.7 trillion US dollars per annum.
Trade between EU and ASEAN last year reached 147 trillion euros. EU is ASEAN`s second biggest trade partner while ASEAN is EU`s fifth biggest trade partner. EU is also the biggest investor in Southeast Asia.
According to President Yudhoyono, ASEAN and EU clearly are important to each other, as EU is the second largest trade partner for ASEAN, and the largest investor, while ASEAN is EU`s fifth largest trading partner.
Thereby, the ASEAN-EU Summit should also be used as a chance to play a role in changing the paradigm on which economic policies are made, to turn the tide of events in favor of both regions.
“This Business Summit is timely for ASEAN, as we make a final sprint to achieve a true ASEAN Community by 2015. But, in realizing this objective, we are not without challenges,” he said.
ASEAN-EU Business Summit is a high level forum for business players and governments to deal with problems arising from trade relations between the two regional groupings.
Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu who is also chief of ASEAN economic ministers said earlier the summit was intended to look into business and investment opportunities in both sides.
The outcome of the summit will be brought to an annual meeting of ASEAN and EU economic ministers for approval.
However, earlier on Wednesday, the ASEAN civil societies warned the regional grouping against the disadvantage the ASEAN would suffer if it concluded a free trade agreement with the European Union.
The warning was expressed by civil societies of the Southeast Asian nations grouped in the ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC) / ASEAN People`s Forum (AFP).
The ASEAN-EU free trade agreement, which would be signed on Thursday (May 5) can harm the interest of ASEAN members as developing countries, particularly if seen from the aspects of state sovereignty and government support for people`s interest, the ACSC/APF said in a press statement.
They, among others, cited as an example the EU-ASEAN patent right agreement which required ASEAN generic drugs to wait for one year longer before they could produce similar patent drugs.
Member of Malaysian parliament Charles Santiago, who is also a noted civil society figure, said that the agreement would in the end destroy generic drug industry in ASEAN countries.
“It is clearly not a win-win solution because it would not produce a balanced result for us as developing nations,” he said.
The free trade agreement is also viewed as to endanger the sovereignty of the state because European firms would be allowed to suit ASEAN countries at the International Court of Justice if they found a policy they considered harmful to them. (ANTARA)