ASEAN-EU commits to fight future pandemics

Hakim Hayat

In the face of the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, ASEAN and European Union (EU) officials re-affirmed commitments on efforts to strengthen preparedness and capacity to respond to the current and future public health emergencies in a joint statement following the 28th Meeting of the ASEAN-EU Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC).

The ASEAN-EU JCC held their 28th meeting via video conference last Friday which was co-chaired by Permanent Representative of Singapore to ASEAN Kok Li Peng; Head of the Southeast Asia Division of the European External Action Service David Daly; and Head of Unit for South and Southeast Asia, European Commission Directorate-General for International Partnerships Mario Ronconi.

The ASEAN and EU emphasised the importance of shared values and common interests that underpin the comprehensive, dynamic and multifaceted nature of both sides’ relations and the significant role played by ASEAN and EU in regional and global affairs. During the ASEAN-EU Ministerial Video Conference on COVID-19 in March 2020, ASEAN expressed appreciation for ‘Team Europe’’s – including the EU’s – assistance of over EUR800 million to combat the spread of the disease and mitigate its impact on the region including the additional support programme ‘Southeast Asia Health Pandemic Response and Preparedness’ of EUR20 million, implemented by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The EU also announced on March 23 to allocate EUR11 million for disaster preparedness and humanitarian aid in the Southeast Asian region, to support those affected by natural disasters, the coronavirus pandemic, and conflicts.

An inaugural EU-ASEAN Experts’ Dialogue on COVID-19 Vaccines was also held on December 8, 2020 where both sides expressed their continued support to vaccine multilateralism, the WHO, and fair, equitable and affordable access to safe and effective vaccines under the multilateral COVAX Facility.

The EU contributed over EUR850 million in grants and guaranteed loans to the COVAX Facility to purchase, secure and deliver vaccines to low- and middle-income countries and accelerate manufacturing capacity for their global supply. Last Friday, alongside the promise of being ever more ready for future pandemics, the ASEAN-EU JCC re-affirmed other shared interests in their joint-statement.

The committee agreed on the need for a robust socio-economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that would enable ASEAN and the EU to “build back better”, greener and in a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient manner, including through support to the implementation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and with the assistance of the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility.

During the meeting, ASEAN Chair Brunei Darussalam presented its priorities and key deliverables under the theme of ‘We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper’ for ASEAN’s Chairmanship in 2021, which reflects ASEAN’s commitment to care for its people, to prepare and adapt for future opportunities and challenges by ensuring that the region remains relevant and continues to prosper.

The EU also provided updates on the final implementation of its priorities for 2019-2024, notably the Next Generation EU and European Green Deal.

Both sides underlined the strategic importance of their economic partnership and recognised efforts to further increase and strengthen two-way trade and investment flows between ASEAN and the EU that can support the regions’ comprehensive recovery process, particularly for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).

ASEAN and EU officials during the meeting also re-affirmed the importance of and their commitment to the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Paris Agreement, with a view to promote sustainable development and address the global challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental protection, including through ASEAN-EU dialogue mechanisms.

It was also shared that ASEAN and the EU look forward to the 3rd ASEAN-EU Dialogue on Sustainable Development hosted by Thailand in 2021 and confirmed their interest in exploring further cooperation on issues such as sustainable finance, green development, human development and gender equality, digitalisation and innovation, and sustainable connectivity.

Both sides recognised that peace, security and stability in the ASEAN and EU are vulnerable to a range of common, transboundary threats – including terrorism, violent extremism, cyber-security attacks, infringements on maritime security and freedom of navigation, illicit trade in and use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials, and the spread of online disinformation.

Both sides underscored the importance of strengthening cooperation in cybersecurity as previously affirmed in the ASEAN-EU Statement on Cybersecurity Cooperation, which was adopted in 2019.

The committee welcomed the growing engagement between the ASEAN and EU on a broad range of security and defence-related issues, including the EU’s active engagement FINAL as co-chair of two thematic work streams, on maritime security as well as on counterterrorism and transnational crime (CTTC), within the ASEAN Regional Forum.

Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to regionalism and rules-based multilateralism as well as to respecting and promoting international law and internationally agreed norms and standards, in line with the United Nations (UN) Charter.

The committee also reaffirmed their support for preserving and strengthening an open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization (WTO) at its core, and the need to address barriers to international trade.