The year 2017 marks a number of important anniversaries for both ASEAN and the EU. Round numbers predominate – 40, 50, and 60. 40 years of formal EU-ASEAN dialogue; 50 years since the creation of ASEAN; and 60 years since the Treaty of Rome established the forerunner of the present day European Union. All are important milestones and ones that the EU-ASEAN Business Council hopes can be marked by further and enhanced diplomatic, trade and investment relations with ASEAN.
Optimism about ASEAN’s future remains as strong as ever. That is probably, in one sentence, the key headline that emerged from the EU-ASEAN Business Council’s Business Sentiment Survey in 2016. The survey of European businesses operating in Southeast Asia clearly reaffirmed the ASEAN region as a bright spot in the global economy and a focus for European investment going forward.
At a time when similar surveys of businesses in other Asian markets are showing a more cautious approach and dampening investment expectations, European businesses in ASEAN overwhelmingly expect their profits to grow and their operations to expand over the medium term. More than two-thirds of respondents said that they are planning to expand operations and increase employment in ASEAN over the next five years – good news for jobs and investment.
This confidence is driven by the growth potential of ASEAN markets which is powered by large, youthful populations, strong consumer sentiment, high rates of urbanisation and deep pools of skilled work-forces. Additionally, ASEAN member states are embracing external trade as a driver for growth and are demonstrating their commitment to enhancing economic ties among themselves and with the rest of the world.
Bilateral FTA discussions between the EU and the Philippines and Indonesia are now underway which, when coupled with the concluded deals with Singapore and Vietnam, will form the foundations for what we hope will be a comprehensive region-to-region FTA between ASEAN and the EU – an agreement that would be a significant game changer for both regions and that European businesses want to see. ASEAN itself continues to make progress with its own ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) objectives, albeit at a slow and steady pace, but progress nonetheless.
Europe and ASEAN have a growing and mutually beneficial trading and diplomatic relationship with much to gain from its further development. At this time, however, growth is slowing in some of the world’s largest economies, and the global political debate is challenging the benefits of open trade and investment. Challenging times call for leaders in governments and businesses to work together and take action to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth and prosperity. With those goals in mind, the EU-ASEAN Business Council will continuously strive to build Europe’s relationship with ASEAN, and to support ASEAN and its Member States in both their development and the full implementation of the AEC.
Full EU-ASEAN Trade and Invest 2017 publication can be found here.