The bi-annual Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which recently wrapped up in Brussels, ended with the EU-28 leaders and their Asian counterparts reaffirming their pledge to support free trade and multilateralism in what some viewed as an open rebuke of the isolationist policies of US President Donald J. Trump.
“Only a multilateral approach allows us to confront global challenges,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at the lose of the meeting, later underlining the need for the international community to support and update global institutions like the United Nations and World Trade Organisation.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said countries needed to work together to make progress on global challenges due to the interconnectivity of the world’s economies.
“Even the biggest (economies), rely on a stable global system where they can cooperate productively and compete peacefully, resolve disputes, and work together on new areas,” Lee added. “If we weaken the multilateral framework, at a minimum, we will reduce our standards of living. But beyond that, we will exacerbate rivalries and conflicts and further risk destabilising the world order.”
From the European side, our motivation is clear: we want Asians and Europeans to trade more with each other, to visit each other more often, to save the planet’s habitat and, finally, to enhance each other’s security in these uncertain times,” said European Council President, Donald Tusk, who added that the EU and ASEAN member states, account for some two-thirds of the world’s economic output, 55% of global trade 60% of the world’s population and 75% of global tourism.
ASEM leaders formally endorsed the need to maintain an open world economy and uphold a rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization at its core in a letter to the attendants that was presented to the public prior to the conclusion of the meeting.
The meeting’s discussions over trade were held at a time when the EU’s claim that US tariffs on steel and aluminium imports are acts of hostile protectionism meant to undermine global trade rules. Without mentioning the US in its communique, ASEM leaders criticised Trump’s trade and environment policies, as well as his decision to walk out of the Iran nuclear deal.