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 with Japan and Korea, and we are negotiating with several other countries, including Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. These agreements have helped to maintain trade despite the pandemic, for example by significantly increasing imports of organic chemicals and essential medicines from Singapore. Many years ago, in February 2015, when the Trans-Pacific Partnership was signed, President Obama said that agreements like this allow us to “write the rules of the road in the 21st century.” But history took another turn when President Trump withdrew from the TPP in his first days in office (which eventually advanced without the United States and became the CPTPP). Many Member States have already concluded free trade agreements, but there are restrictions. In November 2008, Chile and Indonesia decided to establish a joint task force on the benefits of a bilateral free trade agreement. The final report was finalized in November 2009. Given the many security crises in our neighbourhood, I must inevitably focus on the events that have occurred 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 evolution of the region. Some Europeans may be wondering if we have missed it.
Is the European Union weaker because 15 other countries have signed a free trade agreement without us? The answer is no. Just as we believe in free and fair trade and multilateralism to achieve this, we can be pleased if others follow this path to increase their own prosperity. And thanks to the growth of the global economy, the RCEP will help create more – not less – business opportunities with the region, just as our own single market offers them opportunities. As an EU, we tend to have more ambitious free trade agreements with almost all countries in the RCEP agreement. The main effect of the RCEP is to have pooled the various free trade agreements concluded by ASEAN with the other five Asia-Pacific countries in a single framework. It covers trade in goods, but contributes little to the removal of non-tariff barriers. Most services are excluded, but also agriculture, which is a sensitive sector. This is a more “flat” agreement than the existing free trade agreements between the EU and the region. And that cannot be compared to our own internal market. But that was never the case. While within the EU we are still studying its 20 chapters, 510 pages and annexes, their obvious achievements are clearer than in the depth of their reports: 30% of the world`s population and GDP, 28% of world trade and five members of the G20. A great advantage will be the harmonization of the rules of origin, which will also help European companies in the region, which will make it easier for companies to ship products to the region without establishing different criteria of origin for each stage of the manufacturing process or in each country that has been crossed.