EU steps up strategy in Indo-Pacific, eyes resumption of trade negotiations with PH, ASEAN

The European Union (EU) is stepping up its strategic engagement with the Indo-Pacific region that includes its ties with the Philippines and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a whole in efforts to contribute to the region’s stability, security, prosperity, and sustainable development.

Such action would be "in line with the principles of democracy, rule of law, human rights and international law".

European Union (EU)

A joint communication was adopted by the EU on the strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region hours after United States (US) President Joe Biden announced a new trilateral security partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom (UK) focusing on the region and the proposed sharing of nuclear technology to Australia.

Among the objectives of the new EU strategy in the Indo-Pacific region is to assess the possible resumption of trade negotiations with the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand; completing its trade negotiations with Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand; start investment negotiations with India, and the eventual region-to-region trade agreement with ASEAN.

In a statement, EU President Ursula von der Leyen noted the expanding “economic, demographic, and political weight” of the Indo-Pacific region that goes from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific island states.

“With today's proposals, and guided by our values, we are offering a strengthened partnership to advance trade, investment, and connectivity, while addressing common global challenges and reinforcing the rules-based international order,” she said.

Another European stalwart, EU High Representative and Vice-President Josep Borrel, sees the linkage between futures of the two major regions, saying that the world's center of gravity is moving toward the Indo Pacific, both in geo-economic and geo-political terms.

“The EU is already the top investor, the leading development cooperation partner and one of the biggest trading partners in the Indo-Pacific region. Our engagement aims at maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific for all, while building strong and lasting partnerships to cooperate on matters from the green transition, ocean governance or the digital agenda to security and defense,” Borrel said.

In outlining its comprehensive and long-term engagement in the Indo-Pacific, the EU took into consideration the region’s increasing strategic importance for Europe in terms of its growing economic, demographic, and political weight that makes it a key player in shaping the rules-based international order and in addressing global challenges.

“The EU aims to contribute to the region's stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development, in line with the principles of democracy, rule of law, human rights and international law,” it added.

Aside from the trade and investment aspects of the new EU strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, Europe has also outlined the following goals:

  • Concluding Green Alliances and Partnerships with willing and ambitious Indo-Pacific partners to fight against climate change and environmental degradation. The first has been agreed with Japan in May 2021.
  • Strengthening ocean governance in the region, including increasing the EU's support for Indo-Pacific countries' fisheries management and control systems, the fight against Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and the implementation of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements.
  • Expanding the network of digital partnerships with Indo-Pacific partners, as well as exploring the possibility of new Digital Partnership Agreements with Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore.
  • Stepping up implementation of the Connectivity Partnerships with Japan and India; supporting partners in establishing an appropriate regulatory environment and facilitating the mobilization of the necessary funding to improve connectivity on the ground between Europe and the Indo-Pacific.
  • Strengthening cooperation on research and innovation under ‘Horizon Europe'; explore the association to this program of eligible like-minded Indo-Pacific partners such as Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand and Singapore.
  • Exploring ways to ensure enhanced naval deployments by the EU Member States to help protect the sea lines of communication and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific while boosting Indo-Pacific partners' capacity to ensure maritime security, and
  • Reinforcing support to healthcare systems and pandemic preparedness for the least-developed countries in the Indo-Pacific region, enhancing collaborative research on communicable diseases in the context of the Horizon Europe research program.