EU steps up engagement with Indo-Pacific countries, including PH

By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

September 17, 2021, 1:36 pm

MANILA – The European Union is stepping up its strategic engagement with countries in the Indo-Pacific, including the Philippines as it recognized the region’s "growing economic, demographic, and political weight" in shaping the rules-based international order and in addressing global challenges.

"With this new strategy, the EU aims to contribute to the region’s stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development, in line with the principles of democracy, rule of law, human rights and international law," the EU Delegation in Manila said.

In the EU Indo-Pacific strategy unveiled in Brussels on Sept. 16, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the "world's center of gravity is moving towards" the region, both in geo-economic and geo-political terms.

"The futures of the EU and the Indo-Pacific are interlinked. The EU is already the top investor, the leading development cooperation partner and one of the biggest trading partners in the Indo-Pacific region. Our engagement aims at maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific for all while building strong and lasting partnerships to cooperate on matters from the green transition, ocean governance, or the digital agenda to security and defense,” he said.

The new strategy came after the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom announced its trilateral security partnership called AUKUS, which includes sharing technology to improve their defense capabilities and maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

EU's Indo-Pacific plan, on the other hand, will include in particular the following actions:

- Completing EU trade negotiations with Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand; resuming trade negotiations and starting investment negotiations with India; completing an Economic Partnership Agreement with the East Africa Community; assessing the possible resumption of trade negotiations with Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, and the eventual negotiation of a region-to-region trade agreement with Asean;

- Concluding Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCA) with Malaysia and Thailand; starting PCA negotiations with the Maldives, and bringing the EU's upcoming new Partnership Agreement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP) to full fruition;

- Concluding Green Alliances and Partnerships with willing and ambitious Indo-Pacific partners to fight against climate change and environmental degradation. The first has been agreed with Japan in May 2021;

- Strengthening ocean governance in the region, including increasing the EU's support for Indo-Pacific countries' fisheries management and control systems, the fight against Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and the implementation of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements;

- Expanding the network of digital partnerships with Indo-Pacific partners, as well as exploring the possibility of new Digital Partnership Agreements with Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore;

- Stepping up implementation of the Connectivity Partnerships with Japan and India; supporting partners in establishing an appropriate regulatory environment and facilitating the mobilization of the necessary funding to improve connectivity on the ground between Europe and the Indo-Pacific;

- Strengthening cooperation on research and innovation under ‘Horizon Europe'; explore the association to this program of eligible likeminded Indo-Pacific partners such as Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand and Singapore;

- Exploring ways to ensure enhanced naval deployments by the EU Member States to help protect the sea lines of communication and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific while boosting Indo-Pacific partners' capacity to ensure maritime security; and

- Reinforcing support to healthcare systems and pandemic preparedness for the least-developed countries in the Indo-Pacific region, enhancing collaborative research on communicable diseases in the context of the Horizon Europe research program. (PNA)