Prince lauds Asean-EU ties
Danial Norjidi & Rokiah Mahmud

The European Union (EU) has offered to strengthen the Asean Secretariat with a staff exchange programme and vowed to continue to help Asean reach its overall regional integration targets with two new cooperation programmes, namely the Asean Regional Integration Support by the EU (ARISE) and Regional EU-Asean Dialogue Instrument (READI), worth a combined total of more than 20 million Euro.

His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said this while delivering a statement yesterday during a press conference for the 19th Asean-EU Ministerial Meeting at the International Convention Centre in Berakas.

His Royal Highness also highlighted that Asean is very keen to look at ways to build on this in the future, possibly through an Asean-EU Free Trade Agreement.

Later, His Royal Highness answered a question on how the 19th Asean-EU Ministerial Meeting has benefited Brunei.

"Firstly, as a member of Asean, it has been very good to see the practical results, particularly the five-year Plan of Action, which will very much strengthen the development of all Asean member states," said His Royal Highness. "We are very grateful for the EU for their support in this."

"Secondly, we had a very good chance to hear directly from the EU on many international matters such as the financial crisis and their views on various political problems in many parts of the world," His Royal Highness said. "This is great help because many EU members are involved in important discussions and negotiations."

"Thirdly, from our own perspective in Brunei, it gives us a very good chance to host an international meeting and prepare for next year when we will be chairing Asean," His Royal Highness added.

In his earlier statement at the conference, His Royal Highness described Asean-EU as one of the oldest partnerships between regions in modern times, highlighting that this means we have a lot of respect for each other.

"In practical terms, the European Union is Asean's second biggest trading partner and single largest investor, representing a total trade and investment of nearly US$200 billion."

It was on that note that His Royal Highness said that Asean is very keen to look at ways to build on this in the future, possibly through an Asean-EU Free Trade Agreement.

"At the same time, the EU is offering to strengthen the Asean Secretariat with a staff exchange programme and continue helping us to reach our overall 'regional integration targets' with two new cooperation programmes - the Asean Regional Integration Support by the EU (ARISE) and the Regional EU-Asean Dialogue Instrument (READI)," said His Royal Highness. "These are big programmes worth of a total more than EUR20 million.So, we much appreciate the EU's generosity."

In concluding the statement, His Royal Highness said, "Finally, we have also had a good exchange on regional and international developments and got to know each other's views on the situations in the Middle East, Syria, Iran and the developments in the Eurozone.

"And, on behalf of my colleagues, I would like to thank Lady Ashton and all the EU ministers who have come a long way to join us.

"We much appreciate their ideas and friendship and look forward to continuing our work together."

A joint press release on "35 years of Friendship and Cooperation" between Asean and EU said that the ARISE programme will further support the realisation of the Asean single market through deepening Asean-EU cooperation on economic integration, as well as economic policy dialogue between Asean and the EU.

The READI is described in the press release as a programme that will fund policy dialogue between the two regions, the most dynamic economic integration groupings in the world.

The programme will enhance mutual understanding and coordination between the Asean and the EU, and, among others, will finance cooperation on disaster management, energy, science, technology and innovation, information and communication technologies, while also fostering policy dialogue on issues of global importance.

Yesterday's press conference also saw the attendance of Lady Catherine Margaret Ashton, the Baroness of Upholland and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Vice President of the European Commission, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, the Asean Secretary General, and Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Dewa Dato Seri Setia Awang Lim Jock Seng, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II.

Touching on the two aforementioned cooperation programmes, Dr Surin in a telephone interview said, "The EU has been helping us through the secretariat and essentially helping Asean to be more prepared to do its own integration."

"(They are also helping us) to strengthen the capacity of our secretariat as a central mechanism to promote further cooperation within among ourselves and certainly with the dialogue partners including the EU," he added. "So like Lady Ashton said, it is a strategic objective of the EU to see us succeed because we have been identified as one of the most successful regional organisations that the EU has had cooperation and relations with."

Touching on the READI programme, Dr Surin said that the project will work on information, research, climate change and energy, to name a few.

On the ARISE programme, he pointed out that it would be 15 million euros for the period of 2011-2015. "These are for the strengthening of the capacity of Asean and of the Asean Secretariat in order to meet its own objectives of our community building for 2015," he said.

Dr Surin also added that Asean-EU total trade during first three-quarters of last year has increased by 14 per cent over the previous year, bringing the total trade now to US$174.6 billion.

"Export to the EU is still growing, with the same period showing a rise of 21 per cent," he said. "Import has gone up by five per cent." - Borneo Bulletin (28 April 2012)