Russia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are moving toward a strategic partnership, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov told Russian Business Guide in an interview published on the website of TPP Inform new agency on Thursday.
“Russia-ASEAN dialogue partnership turns 20 years this year, and it continues to develop. Over the last two decades, stable operation of main bodies of cooperation was established with Russian Foreign Ministry’s coordinating role,” Morgulov said. “The specter of directions of sectoral cooperation is broadening. The recent example is launching Russia-ASEAN dialogue on renewable energy, creating mechanisms of cooperation in the spheres of agriculture and education,” he added.
“We are now at the threshold of a new stage of relations with the Association, which I would describe as moving toward a strategic partnership,” he noted.
The diplomat said that Moscow pays special attention to developing trade and economic and investment cooperation with ASEAN. “The ‘roadmap’ adopted in 2012 and the Trade and Investment Cooperation Roadmap updates in 2015 play the key role in boosting (cooperation) with an emphasis on such spheres as energy, transport, infrastructure, science and technologies,” he went on. “The result is obvious. Over the last five years, our trade turnover with ASEAN countries has doubled,” the deputy foreign minister said.
Comprehensive Russian business missions to Southeast Asian countries organized in the framework of the pubic-private partnership are particularly successful, Morgulov noted. “We assign special importance to boosting modernization and high-tech cooperation with the Association. In particular, we recently came up to ASEAN partners with a project of accelerated implementation of a bilateral system of electronic trade,” he said.
Taking into account the current geopolitical situation, Russia “initiated dialogue on prospects of linking regional integrational processes, including in the context of implementing the aforementioned program of forming a broad economic partnership with EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union), SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and ASEAN.
Moscow not “turning” to Asia Pacific, develops ties with both East and West
The official also said that Russia pays special attention to developing trade and economic ties with the countries of the Asia Pacific but it does not mean Moscow is “turning to the East.”
“First of all, I would not say Russia is ‘turning’ to the Asia Pacific,” Morgulov said. “Our country is a world power situation on the Eurasian continent and building relations simultaneously with the West and the East. Another thing that in this work, we take into account objective tendencies of global development, and they serve as evidence that the role of the Asia Pacific, as a ‘locomotive’ of global economy and politics, is steadily strengthening,” he added.
“Strengthening the Asian direction of foreign policy is a conscious choice dictated by a number of important factors, first of all the necessity to provide favorable conditions for social-economic improvements in East Siberia and Far East, integrating these regions in the system of economic cooperation with the Asia Pacific,” the diplomat noted. “In the framework of implemented these tasks, Russia started using such principally new instruments as creating territories of advancing social and economic development in the Far Eastern Federal District and the project ‘Free Port Vladivostok’,” he noted.
“The interest of foreign business circles to Russia’s development projects for our Far Eastern territories is obvious. In the framework of the first Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in September last year in Vladivostok, a package of agreements and contracts with participation of foreign investors worth over 750 billion rubles (around $11.55 million) was signed,” Morgulov reminded.
Preparations are underway for the second Eastern Economic Forum scheduled for September 2-3 this year. The forum will focus on relevant issues of deepening regional economic integration, including in the framework of the initiative put forward by the Russian president on establishing a broad economic partnership in Eurasia with participation of Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Trade and economic cooperation and integration are also discussed at other leading regional platforms, including East Asia Summit (EAS), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).
“We actively facilitated fixing in final documents of last year’s APEC summit in Manila the course toward promoting regional non-discriminatory market which would grant all Asia Pacific countries equal access to economic opportunities and benefits,” Morgulov said. “The effect of Russian initiatives in the Asia Pacific cannot be momentary, implementing them requires persistent hard work,” he concluded.
Asia-Pacific countries interested in free trade zone with EAEU
According to the diplomat, the implementation of the agreement on the creation of a free trade zone between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Vietnam will serve as an example for other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The signing in May 2015 of the Free Trade Agreement between member states of the Eurasian Economic Union and Vietnam was a landmark event,” he said. “It is the first document of this kind signed between this integration union and a foreign country. I am convinced that its successful implementation will promote the mutual flows of goods, investment and services.”
According to the Russian deputy foreign minister, “As of today, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand have displayed an interest in creating a free trade area with EAEU.” “Some of these countries have already submitted relevant official applications,” Morgulov said.
The agreement on a free trade zone between EAEU and Vietnam was signed on May 29, 2015. The document provides, in particular, for the tariff liberalization of trade in goods between the EAEU states and Vietnam by lowering of zeroing the import customs duties on a considerable number of goods.