The leaders of the European Union and Southeast Asian countries recently met in Singapore to revamp their free trade talks as the United States and China are caught in a trade war. Both sides would like to eventually finalize a region-to-region free trade pact as the international community fears that the US-China trade tensions could spill over globally. Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief, commented that Southeast Asia could count on Europe as a trade partner. “We stand on the side of a free and fair trade that benefits all, instead of damaging trade wars,” she said.
Washington’s trade war with China, with the looming threat of tariffs on Chinese imports worth $200 billion, has escalated and the US has already imposed 25% tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese goods. “There’s been unanimity of concern over looming trade wars because as we know in a war there are no winners,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano commented. “And worse, sometimes you’re not in the war but you’re gravely affected. And when we talk about a trade war, we’re talking about actual jobs of real people,” Mr. Cayetano stressed.
The EU and ASEAN started free trade talks in 2007 but the EU pulled out two years later due to the military rule in Myanmar. Brussels instead opted to conduct bilateral negotiations with individual countries but those talks have so far had mixed results. Deals have thus far been made only with Singapore and Vietnam and they are yet to be implemented. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom confirmed that both sides wanted to establish a framework for talks to restart, but there was no deadline for this task. “We believe it is important to connect two growing markets and to take away as many obstacles to trade,” she stressed and added that “having a region-to-region agreement between EU and ASEAN is a long-term goal we’ve been discussing for many years. We are now taking steps towards this.”