EU, Brunei to launch negotiations on PCA
Danial Norjidi

The European Union (EU) yesterday announced the launch of Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) negotiations with Brunei Darussalam as His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam granted an audience to Lady Catherine Margaret Ashton, Baroness of Upholland and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the European Commission, at the Istana Nurul Iman.

Also present during the audience were HRH Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office and HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Lady Catherine Margaret Ashton and other EU Foreign Ministers and representatives are currently in Brunei to attend the 19th Asean-EU Ministerial Meeting.

An European Commission press release said that in their discussions, His Majesty welcomed the initiative to launch negotiations on a bilateral PCA.

Commenting on the launch, Lady Ashton said: "The EU and Brunei have long enjoyed friendly and fruitful relations. These have been intensified for the last three years as Brunei has been responsible within Asean for coordinating the organisation's relations with the EU, a role which Brunei has performed with great diligence and creativity. I am delighted that we are now launching a process which formalises this partnership.

The EU has negotiated PCAs with a number of Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. PCAs provide a framework for dialogue and closer cooperation in a range of areas, including politics, economics and trade.

The EU and Brunei expect to hold the first round of negotiations for the PCA in the coming months.

His Majesty and Lady Ashton also discussed a number of Asian regional issues during the audience. They also talked about the strengthening of Asean-EU relations in light of the Ministerial Meeting as well as the upcoming Brunei chairmanship of Asean in 2013.

Meanwhile, HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, hosted a dinner last night in honour of the 19th Asean-EU Ministerial Meeting.

The dinner took place at the Indera Samudera Grand Hall of The Empire Hotel and Country Club and was hosted for the heads of delegation and delegates attending the meeting, including Lady Catherine Margaret Ashton, Baroness of Upholland and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the European Commission.

Speaking at the dinner, His Royal Highness said, "I would just like to say welcome to Lady Ashton and all her colleagues to our region and to Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong, our Asean Chairman and our other Asean colleagues.

"The EU is one of our oldest dialogue partners and it is a great honour for us in Brunei to be your host and thank you for coming all the way to Southeast Asia.

"I look forward to our meeting tomorrow and hope you have a very enjoyable evening," His Royal Highness added.

Lady Ashton also spoke during the dinner. "First of all, Your Royal Highness, may I first take the opportunity to thank His Majesty for granting us an audience today to welcome us to this beautiful country.

"I want to express our appreciation from the European Union for the tremendous effort that the country of Brunei has put into the preparation of this event and we say to you, Your Royal Highness, how much we are looking forward to working with you tomorrow and into the future.

"On behalf of all of the European Union countries represented here this evening, I want to say how much we hope to deepen and strengthen our cooperation," she continued."I believe there is much we can do together to help support the 1.1 billion people that, between us, we represent.

"So, Your Royal Highness, again, thank you so much on behalf of all of us for your hospitality," she added.

Today the 19th Asean-EU Ministerial Meeting (AEMM) will be held at the International Convention Centre in Berakas and will be co-chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah and Lady Catherine Ashton.

According to information from the Brunei Darussalam Media Secretariat at the ICC, the 19th AEMM will see a review of Asean-EU cooperation and discuss ways to further enhance future relations, exchange views on regional and international affairs and current developments in both regions.

With the increasing trade and investment volume between the two regions and rapid development of Free Trade Agreements between Asean and its dialogue partners, this is an area where the two regions hope to make further progress.

At the end of the meeting, the ministers are expected to issue a number of documents, including the Co-Chairmen's Statement of the 19th AEMM, a new 5-year Plan of Action, a Joint Statement on Developments in Myanmar as well as a Joint Press Statement on 35 years of Friendship and Cooperation.

The ministers are also expected to welcome the United Kingdom's and the EU's readiness to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC).

Latvian Foreign Affairs Minister, Edgar Rinkevics, was quoted as saying by Malaysian news agency Bernama that the 19th AEMM is an effective platform to boost economic cooperation between the two blocs.

Dialogue between EU member states and Asean is not only becoming increasingly intensive and fruitful, but can also be used to exchange views on trade and investment and other important matters, he said.

Rinkevics also said that the meeting would be a good opportunity to advance political cooperation between the two regions but would also discuss regional and global issues. - Borneo Bulletin (27 April 2012)