The UK has continued its tilt to the Pacific after becoming a ‘dialogue partner’ of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab attended a virtual signing ceremony marking the occasion today (5 August).
Membership of the ASEAN’s ‘dialogue club’ will allow the UK to attend annual meetings of foreign and economic ministers, as well as foster greater cooperation over trade, investment, climate change, the environment, science and technology, and education.
According to Reuters, Britain has been seeking closer engagement with ASEAN countries as part of its post-Brexit policy to focus more on the high-growth economies of Asia and the Indo-Pacific.
Raab has visited the region six times in the past two years and international trade minister Liz Truss hosted the first UK-ASEAN Economic Dialogue last year to strengthen economic cooperation between the two parties.
Bilateral trade in goods and services stands close to £42bn.
The bloc of 10 southeast Asian nations has a combined GDP of £2.3 trillion.
Raab told the Telegraph, “the Indo-Pacific is the growth market of the future, if you take a 10-year period”.
He also said that working closer with ASEAN nations could help the UK’s efforts to “positively influence China”.
The ASEAN bloc includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The group also has close diplomatic relations with other world powers including the EU, the US and China, and its dialogue club is seen as an important forum for discussion of geopolitical issues.
The UK has also applied to join the 11-nation CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade bloc, which also includes ASEAN members Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.
The government estimates that British exports to the CPTPP area will increase by 65% to £37bn by 2030. UK trade with CPTPP members grew by 8% annually between 2016 and 2019.
Negotiations between the UK and Singapore also started recently on a ground breaking digital economy agreement (DEA) to open up opportunities for British business to deliver their services.