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AseanAffairs Magazine
March - April 2010

The United States is facing daunting prospects in the Asia-Pacific region, a huge market for US goods, while China’s influence is growing as it makes rapid trade inroads in the region. The implications for the US and its need to redefine its ties with Asean are explored in our exclusive interviews with Ernest Z. Bower, Senior Adviser & Director - Southeast Asia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Founding Partner, Brooks Bower Asia LLC and former President of the US-Asean Business Council, and Demetrios Marantis, Deputy United States Trade Representative for Asia.

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In his speech at an EU and Asean meeting three years ago, Johannes Kyrle, Secretary General for Foreign Affairs, MFA Austria, called the year 2007 a landmark year for EU-Asean relations, marking 50 years of European integration, 40 years of Asean and 30 years of EU-Asean cooperation. He talked about the anniversary of two fascinating projects which had gone a long way despite a sometimes bumpy road and were both very successful.

EU and Asean share one feature. Both regions have embarked on the adventure of integrating their respective regions both politically and economically. The deepening of integration both in EU and Asean has, in parallel, opened windows of opportunity for taking EU-Asean interaction forward.

Globalisation is also driving the EU-Asean partnership which helps them register an increase in trade, transport, communication, people-to-people contacts and so forth. Despite the slow progress of EU-Asean free trade talks, both sides remain keen to strengthen economic cooperation, the pillar of EU-Asean partnership. Continued EU support for the Asean integration process will be an important facet of future cooperation.

Since June 2009, Austria has appointed its permanent ambassador to Asean. Klaus Otto Wölfer, in presenting his credentials to the Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia, said, “Austria welcomes this new era of development within Asean (the coming into force of the Asean Charter in December 2008), in particular as the European Union has gone through a similar process towards more integration and cooperation. Stepping up our relations with Asean should be of mutual benefit to EU-member Austria and to Asean alike.”



Interview with Dr. Gustav Gressel,
Commercial Counsellor, Embassy of Austria, Bangkok, Thailand

Dr. Gustav Gressel,
Commercial Counsellor,
Embassy of Austria, Bangkok, Thailand

Q: In your interview with AseanAffairs in October 2007, you mentioned that there was a tremendous interest among Austrian companies to invest in Southeast Asia and China. What have been the developments since then?  

A: Since our last interview the global and local business environment has changed dramatically. Till the end of October 2008 we had a very strong interest among Austrian companies regarding investment in Vietnam and Thailand. With the beginning of the economic crisis and the local instability (in Thailand), which culminated with the closure of the airport, the interest in Thailand ceased completely. For Vietnam, with its homemade financial problems we saw strong decrease in interest among Austrian investors in 2008 but it seems that there is now a renewed interest for investments there.

Companies who are already in Thailand continue to invest despite the political and economical problems. Two Austrian companies, having already established more than one business in Thailand continue to expand their investments. However, there is little interest from companies who have not yet invested here.

Q: How could they be assured to keep their businesses here and for new businesses to be encouraged to come in?  

A: Increased investment in infrastructure and education, clear and transparent rules, liberalisation of some sectors in order to increase competitiveness, full application of WTO rules will encourage new business to come in. In addition it is very important that the international business community can regain trust that the rules will not change during the course of the investment.

Q: How would you describe the interest of Austrian investors in emerging Southeast Asia, compared with India and China?  

A: At the moment China is the motor of the Asian economy. Compared to the Chinese and Indian market the combined Asean market is still rather small and diversified. But increased integration, similar to the one in Europe, will make this region much more attractive.

Q: Asean is setting up a single market in 2015. Shouldn’t Austrian investors be excited about it?  

A: If a real single market can be achieved by 2015, not only Austrian, but investors from the whole world will take a closer look. The Asean country with the best and most trustworthy ( and transparent) legal framework, with the least restrictions on foreign investment and with the best infrastructure and educated workforce will profit most from this development.


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