Italy-ASEAN relationship at a turning point

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Editorial by Benedetto Latteri

Ambassador of Italy to Indonesia, Timor-East and ASEAN
*Originally published in The Jakarta Post

The recent visit of the Italian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Manlio Di Stefano to Jakarta and his attendance at the second ASEAN-Italy Development Partnership Committee Meeting represents pivotal progress toward the consolidation of the relationship between Italy and ASEAN. The reasons that led my country to the decision to apply for the development partnership status are evident to anyone who is familiar with international dynamics: ASEAN is a key partner in a strategic region, the Indo-Pacific, a region that hosts the world’s largest and fastest growing economies and a vast share of global trade passing through its waters. ASEAN is one of the most successful examples of regional integration, as well as a trusted provider of stability and economic growth. Its contribution to upholding freedom of navigation, preventing conflicts and promoting pluralism and tolerance has been unprecedented. At the same time, worrying developments are emerging in the Indo-Pacific: increased tensions over trade and supply chains, as well as intense competition on the political and security fronts. Consequently, regional and global powers, including the European Union and its member states, look at the Indo-Pacific with increasing attention, trying to strengthen cooperation with ASEAN, which represents an excellent framework to defuse geopolitical tensions. Since the first Italy-ASEAN Joint Committee in April of last year, we have been intensely negotiating the areas of joint cooperation. It’s been a long and challenging process that culminated yesterday with the adoption of a 62-paragraph document, the Practical Cooperation Areas (PCAs). The PCAs reaffirm our commitment to work together in a wide range of fields. The document defines the future direction of the development partnership by delineating a strategy that will require a comprehensive engagement and therefore a very significant effort from both sides. Just to give an idea of the depth and magnitude of our future cooperation, the fields of cooperation include peace and security, maritime cooperation, good governance and human rights, trade, investment and private sector development, energy, food, agriculture and forestry, tourism, science, technology and innovation, information communications technology, digital integration and e-commerce, people-to-people exchanges, disaster management and humanitarian assistance, health, environment and climate change, culture, connectivity and sustainable development. Even before the approval of the PCAs, Italy and ASEAN had launched or discussed a variety of initiatives on cultural heritage, cybercrime, environmental protection, sustainable fishing and coastal development and space cooperation. Furthermore, on July 5 and 6, the sixth edition of the High Level Dialogue on Economic Relations between Italy and ASEAN will take place in Kuala Lumpur, the first one to be held in person since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The event gathers ministers, CEOs and senior officials from Italy, ASEAN member states and the ASEAN Secretariat with the aim of strengthening economic ties between our countries. We believe that this initiative will contribute to unveiling the opportunities that the ASEAN market offers to our investors and build up “win-win” economic partnerships with Southeast Asia. As everyone can see, the cooperation that Italy and ASEAN envisage for the next five years is not limited to a few topics or sectors. To succeed, Italy and ASEAN will need to be fully committed to their partnership. In this context, we wish to commend the Cambodian presidency of ASEAN for the fruitful collaboration that we have been able to establish in 2022. And we are looking forward to working with the presidency of Indonesia in 2023 with which, I’m sure, we will continue to successfully advance our common goals of peace and development through mutual cooperation and support. The presence of the Italian vice minister of foreign affairs in Jakarta, especially in a moment of extreme crisis in Europe, sends a very clear message: Italy is fully committed to the region and counts on her ASEAN friends for the success of our cooperation in the years to come.

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