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Thank you very much.
Excellencies, dear friends,
Let me start by thanking Singapore for your great hospitality today, I am looking forward to working more closely together; and Thailand and you personally, Mr Co-Chair [H.E. Don Pramudwinai, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand], for the excellent work we have done together during your chairmanship.
The European Union and ASEAN are very distant geographically, but we could not be closer when it comes to our approach to international affairs. We stand on the same side. We stand on the side of cooperative solutions, based on international rules and on multilateralism as you rightly pointed out. We stand on the side of a free and fair trade that benefits all, instead of damaging trade wars. We stand on the side of peace and security, because we know that conflicts in our times have a global fallout.
It is precisely for this reason that the European Union’s Member States have agreed to deepen our security cooperation with Asia and in Asia. I would like to thank you all – and the Philippines in particular – for inviting the European Union to attend last November's East Asia Summit in Manila. The East Asia Summit is promoting cooperation and trust in this region, and we look forward to contributing to this work, as a partner and as a friend.
The same goes for other security and defence fora in South-East Asia, notably the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus. I recently wrote to Singapore, as Chair of ASEAN, expressing our availability to join the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus. We are ready to start this cooperation in an observer capacity, and I hope this will open yet other avenues of cooperation.
Our approach to security and defence is very much the same: not based on conflict or competition, but on cooperation.
The same is true for international trade. The bilateral trade agreements between the European Union and Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and possibly others will be the stepping stones towards a future region-to-region deal. If our two regions joined forces, we could set a new standard for global trade – with more growth and more protection for our citizens, our goods and our environment.
Because this is what our relationship is all about: making a positive difference to our people’s daily lives. Almost ten million Europeans came to South-East Asia last year, and the number continues to grow.
Each year almost 2.000 students and researchers travel between our regions thanks to our exchange programmes. The Air Transport Agreement we are negotiating would be the first of this kind: it would create jobs, lower prices, and raise security standards. We should both aim to initial this agreement by the end of this year, to the benefit of both our economies. This is positive change in our people’s daily lives.
So, what next? The potential for greater engagement and cooperation between the EU and ASEAN is huge. We look forward to explore new fields for our partnership in October in Brussels at the EU-ASEAN Leaders' Meeting in the margins of the ASEM Summit and at the 22ndASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting in a few months. And I hope we can keep advancing towards the goal of a Strategic Partnership between our two regions.
From free trade to migration, from defence to counterterrorism and climate change, together we can make our two regions stronger. We do it for Europe, for South-East Asia and for the rest of our troubled world that really needs a positive point of reference in these difficult times.