GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 806, 7 February 2024

Third EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum: Three takeaways
Alka Bala

In Focus
By Alka Bala

Third EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum: Three takeaways
On 02 February, leaders of the EU member states, Indo-Pacific countries and representatives of regional organisations from East Africa to the Pacific states met in Brussels for the third EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum. The forum was chaired by Josep Borrell Fontelles, Vice-President of the European Commission, the agenda focused on shared prosperity in the region through economic partnerships. The third EU Indo-Pacific Summit emphasised increasing partnerships and collaboration among EU and Indo-Pacific countries, focusing on climate change, greater economic investments, and maintaining international world order through combating geopolitical challenges.
Three takeaways 
1. Economic resilience and investments forge the path forward
The EU pushed for a regional approach to achieving shared prosperity and highlighted the need for diversified and integrated supply chains in the Indo-Pacific region. Borrell, underscored the economic importance of the Indo-Pacific and its plans to de-risk the European economy by diversifying supply chains, a lesson learnt from the EU’s over-dependence on Russian gas. Steps taken to achieve shared prosperity and inclusive growth include a recent Free-Trade Agreement (FTA) signed between the EU and New Zealand in July 2023 is under plan to extend to Australia, Indonesia, Eastern and Southern Africa, India and Thailand. Coupled with the EU- Economic Partnership Agreement with Kenya and Pacific countries overall the FTA reflects the EU’s “open, sustainable and assertive trade policy”, announced in 2021. Although the ASEAN and the EU work together under the Global Gateway Initiative focusing on improved connectivity, the success of the EU’s ongoing negotiations with ASEAN nations to implement the bilateral FTAs would mark a new chapter in economic cooperation among the regions. A similar outlook on digital connectivity and digital trade agreements, accompanied by binding digital trade rules highlight a phase of cooperation in the technological sector.

2. Joint actions towards the green transition to combat climate change
The EU- Indo-Pacific collaboration on climate action has been focused on the areas of green transition, disaster risk reduction and ocean governance through the formation of “green alliances.” By indulging in climate financing activities, the EU is helping in the development of top-down approaches towards building climate resilience in the Pacific, South-East Asia and Africa. This can be seen in the joint advancement in the renewable energy sector is materialised through the EU - Bangladesh Agreement and Green Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap for Kenya, co-funding of hydropower projects in Fiji. The EU’s Global Gateway Strategy encompasses green initiatives, ensuring climate resilience with development in regions where it is being implemented. EU’s plans for a “Sustainable Western Indian Ocean” programme with a EUR 48 million budget including Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar and Comoros promises the promotion of a blue economy, coastal conservation and sustainable management. Besides the positive developments on the climate action front, there are concerns about the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), a climate-conscious trade policy that charges levy on carbon emitted in the production of carbon-intensive goods, imported from non-EU countries. This policy is seen as rather protectionist than a step towards climate action, especially by the East Asian countries owing to the challenges faced by its manufacturing hubs.
3. The promise to greater cooperation against geopolitical and security challenges
Acknowledging the ongoing geopolitical tensions in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, the Russia-Ukraine war and the crisis in the Middle East, the nations underlined their commitment to “reinforce respect for international law and the rules-based international order.” Security partnerships on maritime, cybersecurity, counterterrorism, hybrid threats, and joint naval exercises with Indo-Pacific countries as part of the EU’s Coordinated Maritime Presences (CMP) tool in the North West Indian Ocean highlight greater security cooperation. To uphold the freedom of navigation in strife-ridden Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Aden of the Red Sea, Indo-Pacific countries are working towards measures to protect merchant vessels, and the EU’s naval mission plans in the making.
Despite the calls for shared prosperity and a joint sustainable future, the summit witnessed an absence of leaders from the big powers. The Foreign Ministers of France and Germany did not participate in the ministerial forum, whereas Antonio Tajani, the Italian Foreign Minister only joined for the later session with Southeast Asian countries. The top diplomats from the QUAD nations and Cho Tae-Yul, South Korea’s Foreign Minister were also not present at the discussion that dealt with crucial aspects of the EU-Indo Pacific cooperation.

EEAS Press Team, “Boosting EU-Indo-Pacific Partnerships: Chair’s Press Release following the EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum,” European Union External Action, 02 February 2024
Josep Borrell, “
The EU and the Indo-Pacific: partners for a more stable and prosperous world,” The Strategist, 02 February 2024
EU-ASEAN ministerial meeting, 2 February 2024,” Council of the European Union
Lizza Bomassi, “
Reimagining EU-ASEAN Relations: Challenges and Opportunities,” Carnegie Europe, 04 July 2023
Olivia Lazard and Dhanasree Jayaram, “
EU-ASEAN Climate Diplomacy: Navigating Misperceptions, Interests, and Opportunities,” Carnegie Europe, 04 July 2023
Dhanasree Jayaram and Aanehi Mundra, “Climate Security in the Indo-Pacific,” Institute for Security and Developmental Policy, 23 May 2023
Finbarr Bermingham, “
EU told ‘double standards’ for Ukraine and Gaza hurt relations with Indo-Pacific,” South China Morning Post, 03 February 2024
Stuart Lau and Koen Verhelst, “
EU’s courtship of Indo-Pacific gets cold shoulder from big powers,” Politico, 02 February 2024

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