Dáil Éireann - Volume 565 - 09 April, 2003

Written Answers. - ASEM Agenda.

  126. Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the short-term, medium term and long-term agenda of ASEM. [9945/03]

  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): ASEM, the Asia-Europe Meeting, consists of the 15 EU member states, the European Commission, and ten Asian countries: Brunei, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

  ASEM began as a Singaporean initiative, in Bangkok in April 1996, with a summit of Heads of State and Government, to develop productive co-operation through economic, political, cultural and people-to-people contact between its European and Asian members. The Asian ASEM countries are the EU's second largest trading [228] partners. More than 2 billion people live in the ASEM countries. Together, they account for more than half of worldwide production.

  While there are institutionalised bilateral relations between the EU and several of the Asian states, the informal and all-encompassing nature of the ASEM process has contributed to strengthening existing relations.

  ASEM Ministers for Foreign Affairs, for Finance and for Economic Affairs meet once a year to prepare for summits, and to develop the ASEM process. Summits involving Heads of State or Government take place every two years – the last being at Copenhagen in September 2002, at which Ireland was represented by the Taoiseach. I will represent Ireland at the next Foreign Minister's meeting to be held in Indonesia later this year. An ASEM Foreign Ministers meeting is expected to take place during Ireland's Presidency of the EU, and the fifth Heads of State and Government summit will be held at Hanoi, Vietnam, in late 2004.

  Since 1996, more than 40 initiatives have followed, in areas ranging from money laundering to illegal migration, trafficking in people, child welfare, human rights, environmental protection, educational exchanges, lifelong learning and international co-operation. In the medium to long-term, participants in ASEM hope to see further developments in initiatives already undertaken, and the development of initiatives. The European side is keen to ensure that political dialogue receives full attention.

  Against this background, recent meetings of Foreign Ministers and recent summits have demonstrated encouraging progress in the political dialogue, with declarations issued, for example, on the Middle East peace process, the situation between India and Pakistan, the Korean peninsula, and terrorism.

  The primary issue of concern for ASEM in the immediate future is its enlargement. On the Asian side, Burma, Cambodia and Laos wish to become members; the new member states of the European Union will also wish to participate, as their membership of ASEM is not automatically based on their membership of the EU. The EU has concerns about membership for Burma, which reflect disquiet at the refusal by the regime there to move towards democratisation. At the same time, however, the EU is worried that any attempt to block Burma's accession might lead to a counter move by Asian partners to block the accession of new EU member states. There is also a worry that an ASEM consisting of almost forty participants may become too cumbersome. These matters will be considered further with our European partners in the period ahead.

  Ireland remains fully committed to ASEM, and will continue to engage in a constructive and comprehensive way with partners, and in the various initiatives which have developed as a result of this process.

[229]   Question No. 127 answered with Question No. 52.