The 8th Summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) was held in Brussels, Belgium, from 4th to 5th October 2010. The Summit addressed a range of issues, particularly the global economic crisis, and also focused on the relationship between the two regions. The objectives of these Summits are to strengthen political dialogue, enhance trade and investment relationships, expand cultural exchanges and further develop the role of ASEM.
In addition, meetings between other constituents of the ASEM process were also held, including “A People’s Forum”, “A Business Forum” and “A Parliamentary Forum”. The Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) also organised a conference entitled “Connecting Civil Societies”. New members Russia, Australia and New Zealand joined the proceedings for the first time.
What is ASEM?
ASEM is an informal process of dialogue and cooperation bringing together the 27 European Union (EU) member States and the European Commission (EC) with 16 Asian countries and the ASEAN Secretariat. Dialogue addresses political, economic and cultural issues, with the objective of strengthening the relationship between the two regions, in a spirit of mutual respect and equal partnership. It provides an open forum for policy makers and officials to discuss any political, economy and social issues of common interest. In this way, it is expected to complement rather than duplicate the work already being carried out in bilateral and multilateral fora. Summits are held every second year in Asia and Europe alternatively and are the highest level of decision-making in the process.
Within this informal process of dialogue and co-operation, ASEM activities can be grouped into three main pillars: political, economic and cultural/intellectual. Within each of these fields, a number of activities have already been given priority, including for example:
in the political field, new areas of common interest which have emerged from recent meetings include the fight against terrorism, the management of migratory flows, human rights, child protection and the impact of globalisation;
in the economic and financial field, cooperation on reducing barriers to trade and investment, financial and social policy reform and dialogue on issues relating to the World Trade Organisation (WTO);
in the cultural and intellectual field, a wide range of enhanced contacts and dialogue between the two regions and co-operation in the protection of cultural heritage.
Apart from the Summit meetings, the ASEM process is carried forward through a series of ministerial and working-level meetings. Outside the official ASEM process, civil society representatives from Asia and Europe have organised alternative ASEM meetings to coincide with the official ASEM Summits. The only existing ASEM institution is ASEF, an international not-for-profit foundation charged with promoting cultural, intellectual and people-to-people contacts between the two regions.
ASEM 8 outcomes
Two key documents emerged from the 8th Summit. The Chair’s Statement is a 26-page document outlining the key areas of discussions and recommendations resulting from these. The document covers a broad range of issues, including economic development and social cohesion within this process, environmental protection, sustainable development cooperation, transnational organised crime including trafficking in human beings, human rights and democracy, reform of the UN system and regional issues. The Summit also endorsed the work programme from 2010 to 2012. The 9th Summit will be held in Laos in 2012.
The Summit also issued the “Brussels Declaration on More Effective Global Economic Governance”. The Declaration makes important references to key elements in the global economic recovery process. It states: “ …we resolve to give new momentum to the cooperation between Europe and Asia with a view to promoting strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth, restoring market confidence, strengthening the resilience and the transparency of the financial system, reforming the financial sector, contributing to the reform of the international financial institutions and spurring economic growth in developing countries.”
It also states that the ASEM partners “… agree that the financial sector should bear a fair share of the cost incurred by governments in conditions of crisis, something that can be achieved through a number of possible policy approaches suitable for different national situations.” While once again, this does not go far enough in terms of agreeing to the establishment of an International Financial Transaction Tax, it does stress the need for the financial institutions to acknowledge their responsibilities and contribute to the cost of rebuilding economies.
The Declaration concludes with the following statement: “We call specifically for actions that encourage more sustainable models of development, benefit developing countries and reduce poverty. We believe that these should include market access, cross-border investments, international assistance, actions on debts and technology transfers. In this regard, we welcome the initiative announced by the G-20 to focus on economic growth in developing countries, narrowing the development gap and reducing poverty, and its stated intention to elaborate a development agenda and multiyear action plans.”
Reaction of trade unions and civil society
While the statements were met with some cautious optimism by international and European trade union organisations, there are also some concerns that remain. In commenting on the outcome documents, the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Ms Sharan Burrow said: “We welcome the Leaders’ support for the Global Jobs Pact, ILO fundamental principles and rights at work, the need for equitable distribution of income, and dialogue between social partners. The Leaders’ interest in developing a global social protection floor is significant … [but] … We call on ASEM Labour Ministers to go further when they meet at Leiden in the Netherlands in December 2010, and develop practical strategies to achieve universal social protection.”
Reacting to the ASEM Leaders’ declaration on economic governance, the General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) Mr John Monks stated: “We are extremely concerned that ASEM Leaders failed to take on board the need for continued fiscal stimulus and jobs creation when they discussed the global economic crisis.”
The 8th ASEF People’s Forum issued a very comprehensive set of recommendations to the ASEM Summit which emphasised the need for governments to take timely and decisive actions to address the social, economic and environmental crises that have deepened the poverty, injustice, loss of employment, and exclusion faced by millions of women and men across Asia and Europe. ASEF Forum participants pointed out that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, and access to resources, livelihood opportunities and basic services remain grossly unequal.
Echoing comments made by other organisations and movements, including Global March, participants noted that instead of fulfilling the needs of people and reinvigorating local economies, hundreds of billions of dollars have been mobilised to save the banks and financial system, while essential social services remain under-funded and threatened. They went on to underline that despite existing laws, regulations, standards and mechanisms, governments have failed to prioritise human rights, environmental security and labour rights, over the profits of companies. There has been a lack of political will in implementing regulation and establishing redress mechanisms for companies operating in, and beyond their territories.
ASEF points out that companies and businesses have used their expanded legal rights and exceptional access to decision-makers to aggressively push for policies that open up new markets and allow access to raw materials regardless of the social or environmental costs. The consequences of this corporate domination are experienced in the lives of millions of women, men and children across Asia and Europe. This has led to a hollowing out of democratic accountability as elites make decisions and implement policies with little or no scrutiny from citizens, creating the conditions for poverty, inequality, environmental devastation and growing social unrest.
The recommendations themselves focus on the following key priorities:
promoting sustainable solutions to the economic and financial crisis;
promoting a just trade and investment system;
making corporations accountable to governments;
protecting rights to food and water;
promoting climate justice;
promoting decent work.
The final priority is crucial as it makes important references to ratification and application of core labour standards, particularly trade union rights, and also offers strong support for the completion of work on a new domestic work convention in 2011. It also highlights the need to focus on job creation and creating decent working conditions within the informal sector, including by encouraging greater investment in labour inspection systems, a point strongly supported by Global March as a crucial tool in the fight against child labour.
To find out which countries are ASEM partners, click here
To download the Chairman’s Statement of the 8th ASEM Summit, click here
To download the Brussels Declaration on More Effective Global Economic Governance, click here
To download the Trade Union Statement to the 8th ASEM Summit and the 3rd ASEM Labour and Employment Ministers’ Meeting, click here
To access the recommendations of the ASEF People’s Forum to the ASEM Summit, click here