Asean and EU: determined to bolster connectivity

opinion May 03, 2018 01:00

By Henrik Hololei

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For the European Union, a close and deep partnership with Asean member-countries is of high importance.

Our relationship is well defined already by the fact that the European Union is the first investor and second largest trading partner of Asean. It is therefore no surprise that both sides are also working hard to increase transport links and overall “connectivity”. Indeed effective transport networks represent the vital arteries through which our people and businesses may flourish. Connectivity is a key element in further deepening our relationship and creating a lot of new opportunities for both parties. 

On May 9 (Europe Day), I will have the honour of co-chairing the second Asean-EU Transport Dialogue in Phuket. Why is this dialogue important? Quite simply because both sides wish to deepen the transport relations by land, by air and by sea so that those arteries can ensure an even stronger pulse and push of economic activity. We are already making great strides.

We are currently negotiating a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement which will represent the very first block-to-block accord and contribute substantially to further deepening our aviation links. Until now, all such agreements have led to “win-win” outcomes increasing substantially business and tourist exchanges as well as connectivity between key partners. Thai Airways, and other leading airlines between Southeast Asia and Europe, are certainly well placed to benefit from this agreement. We are also increasing our cooperation on aviation, maritime and road safety while showing leadership in international fora on cutting transport emissions. 

Through a 200-million-euro (Bt7.6 billion) cooperation budget, the EU is an engaged supporter of Asean’s Master Plan on Connectivity 2025. The EU is developing a strategy of EU-Asia Connectivity in which Asean will play of course a key role. This is crucial too.

While some have started to question globalisation and are retreating into economic nationalism, it is important that we seek to bolster global links. On connectivity, we must embrace “inclusiveness” to ensure that all countries benefit. Second – “respecting the rules”, such as transparency and a level playing field for all economic actors, is fundamental. Finally, we all must share this planet. Environmental, social and financial “sustainability” is therefore a must if our people are to continue to embrace increased openness and cooperation. 

Transport is destined to be revolutionised more in the next 10 years than in the past 50. And the lifeblood of this transformation is digitalisation. Working closely together, supporting innovation while providing a positive regulatory background, Asean and the EU can provide leadership r to successfully address challenges to ensure we all benefit from the new technological wizardry. One of the great positive “disruptors” of the last century was Henry Ford, who said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Concerning the “beginning”, last year the EU and Asean celebrated our 40-year anniversary of formal relations. We have certainly made much progress in our cooperation. Our Asean-EU Transport Dialogue illustrates how we are now committed to working ever more closely together.

Put simply, we need global solutions to global challenges. Asean and the EU together represent natural partners that can make a very significant contribution indeed.

HENRIK HOLOLEI is director general for mobility and transport at the European Commission.