This week (19 September), EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc announced building blocks for a new strategy to ensure sustainable connectivity between Europe and Asia. Investments should foster exchange between the two regions, as well as benefiting specific Asian countries and their people. The strategy focuses on transport, energy, digital connectivity and exchange in the fields of education, research and culture.
Growth through connectivity
In 2016, more than a third of all EU exports were destined for Asia, which was the source of almost half of all imports to the European Union. The total volume of trade was 1.5 trillion euros. The figures are impressive, but the potential of yet closer connectivity between the two economic regions is far from exhausted. Transport on the Asian continent is in a similar state to European networks a few decades ago. Numerous different transport standards and technical rules are to be found across the vast region from New Delhi to the Fiji islands. Goods have to be reloaded or subjected to time consuming checks, and smooth interchanges between rail, road and air transport are by no means guaranteed.
The Asian Development Bank thus estimates that Asia needs infrastructure investments of more than 1.3 trillion euros annually if it is to generate adequate growth for its population. The EU is willing to support these efforts, in order to further develop the close trading relations it maintains with the countries of Asia.
Investing in sustainability and common rules
As Mogherini stressed, this European investment initiative is to focus on sustainable projects which respect environmental standards and do not overextend national budgets. All investments from the European Union will also require transparency and public controls. In addition, common rules are needed to define standards as a prerequisite for the cross border movement of goods and services. The model for this idea is the EU internal market, which is based on uniform rules for all partners.
Over the last few years, the EU has already invested in specific infrastructure projects such as the Žeželj bridge in Novi Sad (Serbia), with the aim of speeding up flows of goods from and to Asia. Support has also been provided to Central Asian countries expanding their energy markets and infrastructure, for example, in order to facilitate trade in energy with Europe. The EU also supports ASEAN in its efforts to dismantle trade barriers between its member countries.
The EU – positioning itself as a strategic partner
This investment in Asian connectivity is to be significantly stepped up in the coming years with a mixture of public and private funds and in cooperation with international donors and financial institutions. In this way, the European Union is also making its mark on the world stage as a strategic, forward looking trading partner for other world regions. By enhancing connectivity and by positioning itself as a comprehensive cooperation partner, the EU is also strengthening its own strategic autonomy and ability to act.