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Opinion : Connecting Europe and the Asia-Pacific : time to move up a gear

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High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy & Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini

Europe and the Asia-Pacific region have a centuries-old common history. The ties between these areas of the globe are today reaching an unprecedented level. For example, Asian markets account for over one third of exports from the European Union. Almost half of the goods and services imported by the EU come from Asian countries. Every year, thousands of students, academics, researchers move between the EU and the Asia-Pacific. The cultural exchanges between our cities are vibrant. And there is more to our mutual relationship than just economic or scientific exchanges: we have a common interest in preserving a cooperative, rules-based and peaceful international system, where multilateral organisations are the natural fora for reaching common solutions. This relationship needs to rely on effective, functioning and sustainable connectivity, in other words on the physical and non-physical infrastructure through which goods, services, ideas and people can flow unhindered.

While connectivity has always been a part of the EU’s policy towards the Asia-Pacific, until now the EU has not used its full potential in this area. This is why, earlier this month, we proposed a new policy framework to step up the EU action, an EU strategy on connectivity between Europe and Asia broadly speaking. 

Our message is clear: the European Union is ready to step up its engagement with our Asia-Pacific partners on an agenda for connectivity, based on mutual interests and common objectives. Connectivity is in the very DNA of the European Union, as a political project based on market integration. We can offer our regulatory experience, technical expertise and funding opportunities at the service of projects that help interoperability and convergence, promote fiscally and environmentally sound growth, and strengthen our connections in a way that will be beneficial for us all.

We can do this in three ways. Firstly, the EU is ready to support new connections and networks. For example, extending our Trans-European Transport Network, which facilitates trade and mobility through removing technical and regulatory barriers for transport networks and modernising infrastructure to other non-EU countries would be a positive step. We will also pursue a sustainable digital agenda with Asia and the Pacific in order to foster universal and affordable access to digital technologies and services. We will share our experience in creating regional, liberalised energy markets with a focus on market-driven transformation towards clean energy. And we will continue to promote human exchanges and mobility through programmes such as Erasmus or the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action as a way to build connections, mutual understanding and share ideas.

Secondly, in the EU approach, connectivity can only be built in partnership. Many such partnerships exist already.  Last year we signed an ambitious Framework Agreement with Australia that will take our bilateral relations to the next level and this year we launched ambitious FTA talks with both Australia and New Zealand. We continue to deepen our cooperation with many of Australia’s key regional partners: as way of example, a few months ago the EU and Japan signed an Economic Partnership Agreement and have just recently agreed to create the largest area of safe data flows; the EU and ASEAN are negotiating an aviation agreement and we are working with them and other organisations, to identify and support  projects that will help  build and deepen our links.

We want to work on connectivity based on shared principles: transparency, non-discriminatory market practices, a level playing field for economic operators, protection for intellectual property rights. It’s an approach we share with Australia and New Zealand two of the European Union’s most truly like-minded partners. We are convinced that the best way to achieve this is not to impose anyone’s standards or rules, but to work together within international organisations on mutually acceptable ones. For us, European companies must have a level playing field vis-à-vis their competitors and have the same access to markets abroad as others have in the EU. 

Finally, we will mobilise all our levers to back projects with adequate funding, using the full potential of the European Investment Bank and the new tools for external investment policy available under the EU budget.  According to the Asian Development Bank, Asia will require over €1.3 trillion a year of infrastructure investment in the coming decades. The EU is ready to support Asian countries meet such an investment challenge leveraging public and private financing through a combination of grants, guarantees, lending and blending. Yet, investment must be fiscally viable and financially sustainable. The EU will only support projects that mobilise domestic resources, create value for local communities and are sustainable in the long term.

Together, Europe and the Asia-Pacific account for almost 70 percent of global population and over 60 percent of the world’s GDP. There is space for making our ties stronger and more mutually beneficial. Sustainable connectivity, based on strong partnerships and transparent rules, is for the EU, European and Asia-Pacific countries, the best way forward. 

Source : Delegation of the European Union to Australia (Délégation de l’Union Européenne en Australie)

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