Delegation of the European Union to Australia

Australian PM backs trade deal as EU urged to engage more in Asia-Pacific

06/11/2017 - 05:39
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The high-level Asia-Pacific Regional Conference held in Perth 3-5 November, ended with the Australian and Singapore Foreign Ministers calling for the European Union to take a larger role in the region.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the hundreds of delegates who attended the event from throughout Asia and Europe the EU should “undoubtedly” be more engaged in the region.

“I believe that likeminded nations should be working more closely together than ever before,” Ms Bishop said.

“The United States, the EU, Japan, South Korea, India, Singapore need to defend and uphold the international rules-based order which is not on life support.”

FM Bishop underlined her point by declaring the rules-based order was “all we have!”

Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan, was also clear in his support for the EU in the Asia-Pacific.

“The EU needs to be more integrated,” he said after being asked about the EU’s presence in the region.

“More  engaged. More invested in this part of the World.”

He added, Singapore “welcomed the EU’s participation” in the Asia-Pacific.

Earlier in the discussion, the Singapore Foreign Minister said the “key brilliance of Europe was the EU” when discussing international security. He also said he “believes in the EU” and that the EU had “made war impossible” on the continent.

The Singaporean and Australian Foreign Ministers were participating in a panel discussion titled “Geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific Region – Opportunities, Challenges and Perspectives” as part of the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference held in the Western Australian capital of Perth from Friday 3 November until Sunday 5 November. The conference drew an impressive audience largely focused on Australian and German relations that included German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

However, the EU figured prominently in discussions.

PM Turnbull said in his keynote opening address the EU and Australia were key partners in  “reinforcing the rules-based economic system”.

He also addressed the topic of trade. He urged the Australians in the audience to “seize the opportunity” to secure a free trade deal with the EU. He also lamented the fact the EU was the only major trading partner that Australia was yet to strike a free trade deal with.

The man who was praised for playing a leading role in organizing the conference, Finance Minister Matthias Cormann, said leaders in the EU and Australia had “absolute focus and commitment” to complete an FTA by the end of 2019.

Another prominent business figure, the Chair of the European Australian Business Council, Nick Greiner, said an FTA was “the final missing piece of architecture between the EU and Australia” and he urged everyone in the room to follow PM Turnbull’s advice to “seize” the opportunity to strike a deal.

Australia’s Shadow Opposition Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong, said the Labor Party supported EU-Australia FTA negotiations and was hoping for a “very high-quality agreement”.

The EU’s Ambassador to Australia, Michael Pulch, also participated in the event and said the EU was looking to fast track a “gold standard” FTA with Australia. He explained the European Parliament recently passed a resolution supporting the draft mandate for the EU-Australia FTA.

Dr Pulch stressed the need to engage more with communities to explain the benefits of trade and that the EU had published the draft mandate to allay community concerns. He said the EU would also set up an advisory group to counter trade fears. He also pushed for a survey to gauge the benefits of free trade for European and Australian small to medium businesses.

The EU is in the process of getting a mandate from Member States before possibly launching FTA negotiations early next year.

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