ASEM: Past Accomplishments and Future Challenges

Speech | 18 April 2010

Speech by Haruhiko Kuroda, ADB President, at the closing session of the 9th ASEM Finance Ministers' Meeting, Madrid, Spain

I. Introduction

Your Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen:

I am honored to participate in this session.

I would like to, first, briefly speak on the role that our two regions–Asia and Europe–should play as we move beyond the current economic crisis and what ASEM can do to help make it happen.

As you know, the crisis revealed how interconnected we all are–the crisis spread rapidly and disrupted the entire world's economic and financial system. It also revealed weaknesses in the global financial governance structure, which was unable to foresee the meltdown. We believe the worst of the global financial crisis is now behind us. And the challenge facing us today is converting the economic rebound into sustained recovery.

ASEM has spent much of its nearly 15 years building links and promoting knowledge transfer between our two regions. Taken together, the countries covered by ASEM now account for about two thirds of world population, 60% of world trade and 50% of global output. As such, ASEM can help develop a new and more stable global economic architecture.

Today, I would like to briefly review ASEM's accomplishments, and examine how ASEM can be a more effective transregional forum that benefits not only its members, but also the world at large.

II. ASEM: Accomplishments and Challenges

A joint study conducted in 2006 by Japanese and Finnish think tanks –the Japan Center for International Exchange and the University of Helsinki–showed that ASEM created an important avenue for sharing information and promoting policy dialogue between Asia and Europe in its three main "pillars"–political, economic, and social–cultural.

The ASEM Dialogue Facility has broadened its scope since it was established in 1996–both in terms of its number of members and the thematic areas covered. Primarily supported by the European Commission, it supports conferences, seminars, and workshops to promote close cooperation and knowledge and policy transfer. These have explored many issues that are important to our regions, ranging from economic and financial policies to climate change and social inclusion. ASEM studies– commissioned and sponsored to allow all members to participate–have helped generate new ideas and potential solutions to problems.

In the area of politics, ASEM has provided a forum for informal yet regular dialogue on significant issues. It has examined not only security issues, but also migration and the global threat of the deteriorating environment.

On the economic front, ASEM has done much in identifying priority issues: working together on the Trade Facilitation Action Plan, Investment Promotion Action Plan, and cooperation on customs. Progress has also been significant in ASEM's third pillar, socio–cultural and intellectual exchanges. Establishing the Asia–urope Foundation, promoting educational exchange through the ASEM–DUO Fellowship Program, and creating a network of educational hubs are a few examples of its notable activities.

Going forward, ASEM should capitalize on its extensive experience on international cooperation and exchange of knowledge to contribute to finding concrete solutions for the challenges we jointly face. Let me highlight three challenges that ASEM may want to address in order to make it a more effective transregional forum.

The first is the dialogue itself. The joint Japan-Finland study showed that, while dialogue has improved markedly on a wide range of issues between our regions, further cooperation and exchange of ideas and know–how can still be pursued. Asia and Europe could collaborate, for example, on improving global financial regulations to ensure the smooth running of the international financial markets. Similarly, we can further work together on issues such as climate change, social safety nets, and migration and labor mobility.

The second challenge is better coordination. When it was first conceived, ASEM was envisioned as an intergovernmental, state–to–state forum. However, over time, while state-to-state coordination has been maintained, the role of region–to–region coordination seems to have increased. Going forward, given the increasing number and diversity of ASEM's membership, it needs to ensure that these two tracks of coordination are consistent with and complement each other.

The third challenge I see is ASEM's lack of visibility. As documented in the Japan–Finland joint study, after a decade of its establishment, a survey of college students in Beijing showed that nearly 70% of respondents were not familiar with ASEM. In our part of the world, ASEM needs to do more to raise its profile.

From Asia's perspective, ASEM could become key to fostering better cooperation between our two regions–ASEM can play a greater role as a transregional forum to address issues of common interest. Equally important is that an active engagement in ASEM would help to keep Asia's own integration process firmly connected to the rest of the world. Transregional forums such as APEC and ASEM–and global forums such as the G20– would help Asia in its pursuit of "open regionalism". This will ultimately result in a regionally integrated and globally connected Asia.

III. Conclusion

Your Excellencies, it is really an honor for me to share my thoughts on ASEM's past accomplishments and its future challenges with you. Addressing these issues now would help better integrate Asia and Europe, and help forge a vision of an effective and fair global governance system in the future. ASEM must help move this process forward. We all must now think globally, coordinate regionally and transregionally, and act nationally.

Thank you.