ASEM: a strong partnership for peace and prosperity
© European Union 2012
"The EU is firmly committed to its responsibilities as a strong player on the world's stage and a strong partner for Asia. Not only do some of our strategic partners come from this part of the world, but the whole Asian continent has actually become a region of strategic importance for us", said President Van Rompuy at the opening of the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) which took place on 5 and 6 November in Vientiane (Laos).
The meeting was attended by the representatives of 27 EU member states and 21 Asian states. The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, represented the EU and together with the President of Cyprus they acted as European coordinators at the summit.
The overarching theme of the meeting was "Friends for Peace, Partners for Prosperity". The main topics were economic and financial matters, global, regional and socio-cultural issues and the future development of the ASEM.
Economy and finance the key topic at the summit
The EU brought the forum up to date on its most recent work in addressing financial market tensions, restoring confidence and stimulating growth and jobs. President Van Rompuy underlined that the EU and its member states had undertaken substantial reforms, that the euro was "on the right track" and that it was an "irreversible project".
Interdependence and the need for closer cooperation between the two partners were the main underlying ideas. "In Asia, as well as in Europe, we are in the same boat, as the global economy keeps us tightly interlinked", said President Van Rompuy. "In the modern world we should all row in the same direction. (…) We need each other", concluded the President.
Asia is the largest trading partner of the European Union (42.5 % of total trade) and, in terms of exports and imports, the EU is Asia's most important trading partner. In addition, the EU is a major investor in Asia (17.2 % of EU outward investment in 2010).
The forum also discussed the global economic and financial situation and the reform of international financial institutions. Special attention was given to the need to foster trade as a means of growth and to the need to fight protectionism.
The EU has already concluded a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Republic of Korea and is currently negotiating similar agreements with Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and India. There are plans for an agreement with Japan in the future. The EU is also prepared to explore the possibility of FTAs with other Asian countries.
The session on global issues focused on efforts to eradicate poverty and to fight against terrorism, piracy at sea and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
President Van Rompuy stressed that the two sides confirmed their commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals; they are already strengthening their cooperation on climate change issues and have agreed that they need to cooperate more closely on the non-proliferation of weapons and nuclear safety and security, including chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological issues.
The two sides also agreed to expand social and cultural, "people-to-people" relations.
Since its launch in 1996, the biennial ASEM summit has been the main forum for dialogue between Europe and Asia, helping to strengthen relations and mutual understanding between the two regions.
Today ASEM represents half of the world's GDP, up to 60 % of global trade and around 60 % of the world's population. This year it was joined by Norway, Switzerland and Bangladesh. The forum complements Europe's bilateral relations with Asian countries.
The next ASEM summit will take place in Brussels in 2014.
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