13 ก.ค. 2564
Founded in 1967, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN would not be what it is today without connectivity. Building intra-regional connectivity has been on top of ASEAN Community-building agenda for more than a decade. This strategic focus has as its ultimate goal, to improve people’s livelihoods and to create a sense of Community. To achieve that, ASEAN is currently implementing the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025 or MPAC 2025 to promote a seamlessly and comprehensively connected region. The European Union (EU) has been a valuable partner in helping ASEAN achieve intra-regional connectivity, particularly through people-to-people linkages by encouraging student exchanges across the region.
Amidst the multi-faceted challenges that ASEAN is facing today, connectivity continues to gain more and more relevance. Amongst the challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, connectivity plays a role in maintaining supply chain integrity, supporting socio-economic recovery and sustainable well-being. While the projected economic growth of 5.5 per cent for ASEAN in 2021 remains uncertain, enhancing connectivity will certainly help ASEAN build back better.
Connectivity is endless, should be universal, and could only be fully achieved through synergized efforts within ASEAN and beyond. That is why connectivity is identified as one of areas of cooperation under the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), with an emphasis on the concept of “Connecting the Connectivities” – to ensure that the connectivity initiatives in the Indo-Pacific region complement and support MPAC 2025, and vice versa. Through this concept, ASEAN and its external partners, including the EU, will be able to maximise the potential of connectivity and move forward together towards a more resilient and sustainable future.
The key question for us today is: “How can we work together to promote Connecting the Connectivity initiatives?
The 3Es approach could be the answer to the question.
First, “Ensuring resilient and sustainable regional supply chains”: Improving supply chain efficiency, such as better border and custom facilitation, could increase countries’ GDP. ASEAN and the EU need to work together to enhance seamless logistics by enhancing trade routes, harmonizing regulations and standards, and reducing non-tariff barriers. To mitigate adverse impact of COVID-19, the mechanisms of trade and investment facilities need to be accelerated to keep markets open, and ensure continued flows of trade and investment. One important tool is to expedite Free Trade Agreements. The signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP Agreement last year is indeed an important step for ASEAN towards a more seamless flow of goods, services and investment in the market of 15 countries, accounting for about 30 per cent of the world GDP. However, no less important are bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) between the EU and ASEAN countries which will serve as building blocks towards a future EU-ASEAN agreement, bringing together two of the world's largest economic areas with a combined market of more than 1 billion people.
Second, Empowering Digital ASEAN: As digital integration can bring about a USD 1 trillion boost in GDP by 2025, ASEAN must build a new economic ecosystem to promote the development of digital infrastructure and digital integration. Therefore, ASEAN will work with partners towards a more digital ASEAN through the development of digital infrastructure and digital integration, including digital trade platforms. As digital EU is ranged on the top of EU’s agenda, ASEAN aims to work with the EU to accelerate digital transformation to enhance digital cooperation in key areas such as cybersecurity, e-commerce and also digital infrastructure development under ASEAN Digital Index and capacity-building programme under E-READI (Enhanced Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument)
Third, “Enhancing sustainability”: Initiatives under MPAC 2025 on sustainable infrastructure and sustainable urbanization would help enhance resilient to better manage future crises and disruptions. It is thus crucial for any region including ASEAN to continue its progress on green infrastructure and on creation of smart cities network. The SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) will remain the guiding compass in advancing sustainable connectivity. Therefore, ASEAN has been progressing in the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030, which is also in line with the agenda of “Resilient Europe, Social Europe, Green Europe and digital Europe, set as priorities of Portuguese Presidency 2021.
The latest highlight of ASEAN – EU relations on connectivity is the conclusion of the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air transport Agreement (AE CATA) on 4 June 2021. It is the world’s first bloc-to-bloc air transport agreement and will bolster connectivity and economic development among the 37 member states of ASEAN and the EU. The Agreement will help rebuild air connectivity between ASEAN and Europe which has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as open up new growth opportunities for the aviation industry in both regions.
For ASEAN, Promoting partnership on connectivity is the right path and pace for integration.
Connectivity is certainly an infinite task, but an empowering one. The COVID-19 should not be allowed to delay the momentum for dialogue and cooperation on connectivity which leads to a better connected world.