EU ambassador upbeat on Thai FTA talks

EU ambassador upbeat on Thai FTA talks

Analysts from the EU and Asean public and private sectors discussed building a sustainable digital economy at the EU-Asean Business Summit.
Analysts from the EU and Asean public and private sectors discussed building a sustainable digital economy at the EU-Asean Business Summit.

The EU ambassador to Thailand said he was "optimistic" the long-delayed free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations will continue between Thailand and the EU, speaking at the 7th annual EU-Asean Business Summit in Bangkok.

"Development in Asean must start first with the group's top countries, Singapore and Vietnam, and I hope we will be able to continue trade negotiations with Thailand," Pirkka Tapiola, EU ambassador to Thailand and head of the EU delegation to Asean, said yesterday at the summit.

The EU is both Thailand and Asean's third largest trading partner, while the EU is the top investor in Asean.

Trade negotiations were halted following the 2014 coup, with European officials refusing to negotiate with unelected governments. Following a successful election, FTA negotiations can continue, however there has been no official announcement regarding talks on either end.

Regional competitors Singapore and Vietnam both wrapped up talks on their own FTAs with the EU this year following years of negotiations.

According to the EU-Asean Business Sentiment Survey, EU businesses consistently see Asean as the region with the best economic opportunities, with 51% of respondents calling it the best economic opportunity in 2018 and 53% in 2019 (China followed at 26% and 27%). In 2019, 70% of EU respondents said they would be expanding business operations in Asean, up from 59% in 2018.

Some 94% of EU businesses urged the EU to accelerate trade negotiations with Asean nations in 2019.

"Consolidation of the digital economy is one of the top priorities of the incoming commission as well as the EU's. This is why we've launched a single digital market strategy," Mr Tapiola said. "This is a time of innovation, a time where we need to develop our rules-based economies to work for our citizens and businesses, and work on our future."

Much of the summit focused on how best to build Asean's digital economy with cooperation from the EU.

Verena Siow, managing director of SAP Indochina, said Asean's digital economy only accounts for 7% of the bloc's GDP, but a report by Bain Capital predicts this amount could grow by US$1 trillion by 2025.

John Hsu, Asia-Pacific chief information officer at HSBC, said Asean must work better to facilitate the free flow of data across borders throughout the region.

Addressing disparities and liberalising trade are necessary to ensure long-term prosperity in the region, but more work needs to be done for a coordinated strategy for Asean's digital economy," Mr Hsu said. "We need an Asean digital integration action plan."

Kajit Sukhum, inspector-general of the Digital Economy and Society Ministry, said Asean states should work to develop a more coordinated response to cybersecurity threats.

"There have been concerns about cybersecurity so we are setting up some standards among the 10 countries to have a common method for addressing cyber-attacks," Mr Kajit said. "Hopefully we can continue this initiative until we make all the cities in the region smart."

He urged caution as the region develops key technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and cloud computing by considering the risks associated with each before blindly committing to using the new tech.

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