Meeting highlights ASEAN-UK commitment to bilateral trade

Azlan Othman

“Hot on the heels of the United Kingdom (UK) becoming the first new dialogue partner to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 25 years, we saw the first ASEAN Economic Ministers-UK Consultation (AEM-UK) on Wednesday,” said British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam John Virgoe.

“This milestone in our economic relationship was co-chaired by Elizabeth Truss MP, UK’s then Secretary of State for International Trade, and Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Finance and Economy II as well as Chair of the ASEAN Economic Community 2021 Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah.”

The British High Commissioner continued, “The UK and ASEAN economic ministers and representatives underlined our shared commitment to increased ASEAN-UK bilateral trade and an inclusive, resilient and sustainable recovery from COVID-19, underpinning mutual prosperity and job creation.

“The meeting agreed to a joint declaration, setting the tone of an even closer economic collaboration. The UK-ASEAN Business Council (UKABC) Vice Chair Patrick Nolan presented its work to bring UK business to ASEAN, supporting recovery, digitalisation and sustainability.

“Meanwhile, in a joint statement following the first meeting of the ASEAN-UK Economic Ministers (AUEM), the meeting welcomed the establishment of the ASEAN-UK Dialogue Partnership (AUDP). The two-way trade between ASEAN and the UK was worth EUR33.8 billion in 2020, representing a decrease of 16.5 per cent since 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The meeting expressed its commitment to grow bilateral trade even further as it recognised that an open, free, inclusive, transparent, rules-based, and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system is fundamental to a resilient, inclusive and sustainable recovery from COVID-19. It acknowledged the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that contributed to the economic downturn in the global economy.

“The meeting also shared deep concerns on COVID-19’s impact on the people’s lives and livelihoods, and expressed appreciation to the continued hard work and resilience of all medical professionals, healthcare workers and frontliners. In this regard, it endorsed the Joint Ministerial Declaration on Future Economic Cooperation between ASEAN and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) to demonstrate the joint resolve of ASEAN and UK to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 and deliver resilient, sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

File photo shows British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam John Virgoe

“The meeting acknowledged the role of extensive COVID-19 vaccination as a global public good and urged for the acceleration of the production and distribution of safe, effective, quality-assured, and affordable COVID-19 vaccines.

“The meeting expressed appreciation for the various global and regional initiatives to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and expedite a more sustainable economic recovery and increased resilience. To this end, it expressed its strong support to the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF), which ASEAN Leaders adopted at the 37th ASEAN Summit, as the collective and long-term socio-economic recovery strategy in addressing the COVID-19 crisis in the ASEAN region.

“The meeting also welcomed the establishment of the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund, the ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies, and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for Public Health Emergencies Response. In support of this initiative, it welcomed the UK-funded report titled UK-ASEAN Trade: Strengthening the Supply Chain Linkages, produced by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), including the insights presented in the report.

“The meeting also noted the findings and digital tool shared with ASEAN through the successful first phase of the UK funded Accelerated COVID-19 Economic Support (ACES) programme, looking forward to Phase Two commencing in the coming months.

“The meeting recognised the critical role of the multilateral trading system centred on the World Trade Organization (WTO) in driving economic recovery in the post-pandemic period and agreed to work together for a stronger multilateral trading system which includes an open, free, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable, and stable trade and investment environment.

“The meeting expressed the need to refrain from introducing any unnecessary measures which may adversely affect the exchange of goods, services and/or investment. Transparency of all trade related measures will be ensured, in line with the WTO’s commitments and obligations.

“It noted the challenges faced by the WTO to strengthen and reform the organisation and looked ahead to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12).

“The meeting welcomed the joint work over the last year through the EUR19-million Economic Reform Programme. The programme addressed the intellectual property (IP) needs of businesses, especially micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), individual inventors and creators to develop an inclusive and conducive environment in ASEAN where IP rights are protected, valued, and monetised effectively.

“The meeting noted the impactful UK funded OECD research to help fulfil the competition related vision of the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025 and ultimately contribute to the ASEAN Secretariat’s mission to attain a level playing field for all firms through effective competition policy.

“The meeting reaffirmed the need to build a greener and more sustainable global economy, in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement and leading up to, and beyond, COP26, which the UK will host in November 2021. It welcomed joint action to increase momentum towards a net zero future including the ASEAN-COP26 Climate Dialogue on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and Long-Term Strategies (LTS) (September 2020), aimed to promote discussion on driving and building momentum for climate action towards COP26 through enhanced NDCs and developing LTS; the ASEAN-UK Race to Zero Dialogue (May), focussed on non-state actors becoming net zero by 2050; and the ASEAN-UK COP26: Framing the Future for Nature and Climate event (June), increasing ambition on nature-based solutions for climate change and biodiversity threats.

“The meeting recognised the work of the EUR15-million ASEAN Low Carbon Energy Programme, noting how it has improved sustainable finance and energy efficiency in ASEAN. The meeting expressed commitment to furthering our engagement on sustainable infrastructure, particularly in support of the Masterplan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025. We recognise the success of the ASEAN-UK Sustainable Infrastructure course (March).

“The meeting welcomed the launch of the ASEAN-UK Digital Innovation Partnership, channelling UK expertise into improving trade facilitation in ASEAN through cooperating on digital transformation, digital technical standards, digital inclusion and the adoption of digital tools in areas such as regulation, e-payments, and the digitisation of supply chains.

“Following the success of the ASEAN-UK Digital Innovation Symposium in September 2021, the meeting looked forward to deepening our technology partnership, including through the expanded ASEAN-UK Digital Business Challenge.

“The meeting was also pleased with the UK’s support for the Priority Economic Deliverable to enhance financial literacy in ASEAN. The meeting recognised the importance of the UK and ASEAN working together to provide valuable opportunities for meaningful and productive knowledge exchange on how to ensure a truly inclusive recovery from the global pandemic.

“The meeting also welcomed the continuation of the UK and ASEAN’s close relationship in skills-based education and welcomed the Brunei-led Harnessing Impact with Resilient Employability Digitally (HIRED) programme, which will bring together employers from the UK and ASEAN to trial virtual learning and internships.

“The meeting underlined the significant contribution of public-private sector partnerships, both in responding to COVID-19 and driving future growth. The meeting recognised the important work of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC), supported by the Joint Business Councils, especially the UK-ASEAN Business Council (UKABC).

“The meeting thanked and welcomed the Philippines as the UK’s country coordinator for ASEAN-UK economic relations.”