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Asean, EU and deeper connectivity

05:05 AM May 09, 2018

For the European Union, a close and deep partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations 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 peoples and businesses may flourish. Connectivity is a key element in further deepening our relationship and creating a lot of new opportunities for both parties.

Today, May 9 (Europe Day!), I have the honor of cochairing 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.

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We are already making great strides forward. 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, substantially increasing business and tourist exchanges as well as connectivity between key partners. 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 forums on cutting transport emissions.

Through a 200-million euro cooperation budget, the European Union is an engaged supporter of Asean’s Master Plan on Connectivity 2025. In addition, the European Union is developing a strategy of EU-Asia connectivity in which Asean will of course play a key role. This is crucial, too. While some have started to question globalization and are retreating into economic nationalism, it is important that we seek to bolster global links, make them work for all, and show their true value. 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 live on and must share this planet. Environmental, social and financial “sustainability” is therefore a must if our peoples are to continue to embrace
increased openness and cooperation.

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Transport is destined to be revolutionized more in the next 10 years than in the last 50. And the lifeblood of this transformation is digitalization. Working closely together, supporting innovation while providing a positive regulatory background, Asean and the European Union can provide leadership in order 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 famously said: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Concerning the “beginning,” last year the European Union and Asean celebrated our 40-year anniversary of formal relations. Throughout this period 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 European Union together represent natural partners that can make a very significant contribution, indeed!

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Henrik Hololei is director general for mobility and transport at the European Union’s European Commission.

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