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“The outstanding results of the cooperation between ASEM countries in the last 12 years mean we can look to the future with optimism,” affirms Finance Minister Bajuk

Dr Andrej Bajuk, Slovenian Minister of Finance and current President of the Economic and Financial Affairs (ECOFIN) Council, today attended the ASEM conference in the format of a meeting of Asian and European (ASEM) Finance Ministers on Jeju Island in South Korea. At the conference, discussions focused on future regional economic integration in Asia and Europe; Dr Bajuk took part in a debate on challenges and opportunities related to the strategic partnership between the European Union and Asia and presented the conclusions of the discussions.

In the debate on challenges and opportunities related to the strategic partnership between the EU and Asia, Dr Bajuk pointed out that Asia has become the main trade partner for the EU, as a third of all European trade involves Asia while Asia is also the beneficiary of a third of the EU’s foreign direct investment abroad. Relations between Asia and Europe have been developing rapidly and the European Union is making every effort to set up even closer relations with Asia, going beyond traditional cooperation and focusing on economic integration and the intensification of political cooperation. Strengthening EU-Asia relations is one of the EU’s external policy priorities. “We should be proud of the ASEM Partnership which has already expanded its membership to 43 countries. The partnership has great potential as, together, we represent half of the world’s GDP, almost 60% of the world’s population and 60% of global trade. In its budget for the period 2007-2013, the European Union has set aside EUR 5.2 billion for cooperation with Asia.” Dr Bajuk went on to reflect on the future strengthening of cooperation and highlighted the negotiations leading to the conclusion of free trade agreements currently underway between the European Union and Asian countries, in particular with South Korea and India, as well as a regional free trade agreement with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Summing up the conference conclusions, Dr Bajuk pointed out that the ASEM process was itself a powerful integration tool since, in 1996, it had comprised 10 Asian countries and 15 EU Member States and, now, it had 16 Asian and 27 EU Member State members, a 72% increase. Twelve years of fruitful cooperation have generated more than 100 diverse initiatives. That list will also soon include the Jeju initiative on mutual cooperation in the area of public-private partnership. The Minister continued with an outline of the process of economic integration in the EU, which can provide a source of useful experience for Asian countries.  He highlighted two major milestones: the 40th anniversary of the establishment of customs union and the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the euro and establishment of the European Central Bank, adding, “There is no doubt that regional integration is reasonable if it is supported by economic arguments. This was the case in Europe, and a similar development has been identified in Asia, as is evident from the emergence of many market instruments which have developed as a consequence of the Asian crisis. In this sense, I would call for enhanced regional integration in tandem with global integration.”

The Minister then presented the case of Slovenia, the first of the new EU Member States to have introduced the euro, and outlined the reasons for that decision, “The reasons for the early introduction of the euro lay in economic arguments based on Slovenia’s small and open economy, the country’s high share of exports to the eurozone (two-thirds) and the fact that economic analyses showed that Slovenia forms an optimal currency area together with the eurozone in terms of harmonisation of economic cycles, similarity of economic structure and non-existence of asymmetric shocks. Our example proves that we should not be afraid of increased integration if it is supported by economic arguments. Economic indicators show that the economic cycles of Asian countries are becoming more harmonised, many Asian countries demonstrate similar structural characteristics and their economies are relatively open with regard to exports. The conditions are thus ripe for increased integration.”

The Minister concluded with the following words: “The ASEM countries have an extraordinary potential and Europe is honoured that Asian partners are willing to learn from EU experience, successes and failures alike, since it is less costly to learn from the mistakes of others.”


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Date: 20.06.2008