Trading Freely with East Asia: Challenges and Opportunities for EU FTAs in the Region Conference Report, Center for Asian Studies, 13 November 2012
As the fastest growing region in the world, East Asia is an important partner for the European Union, particularly at a time of economic difficulty. Asian countries have weathered the recent financial and economic crisis much better than Europe and much better than initially anticipated, with China and several members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) recording relatively impressive growth rates. As a result, self-confidence has been growing in Asia while European economies feel increasingly challenged.
At the same time East Asia is now also seen as an important potential contributor to Europe's growth. But East Asian economies will not be in a position to maintain their impressive growth rates in the absence of economic recovery in Europe. As a result, there is a growing awareness of the two regions' interdependence, and in particular a deepening understanding in Europe of the importance of the Europe-Asia partnership, with preferential trading agreements (PTAs1) as major means of enhancing the bilateral relationship.
The objective of this one-day conference entitled “Trading freely with East Asia” was to take stock of the implementation of the Commission's PTA strategy as defined in the “Global Europe” vision put forward in 2006 and to examine the challenges associated with ongoing and future PTA negotiations between the EU and a sampling of East Asian partners. To this end, the conference brought together European and Asian representatives from government and business, as well as a number of independent observers.
The meetings began with a general discussion on the EU's Free Trade Strategy, before zeroing in on bilateral EU-East Asia relations, examining in turn existing agreements, ongoing negotiations and the opportunities and challenges associated with potential future agreements. The following is a set of general observations gleaned from these discussions.