Negotiations with Indonesia are ongoing and negotiations with Thailand resumed recently, with the goal of further deepening bilateral trade and investment relations with both countries. Bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) between the EU and ASEAN countries can serve as building blocks towards a future EU-ASEAN agreement, which remains a long-term objective.

Negotiations of an investment protection agreement with Myanmar (Burma) are put on hold.

At regional level, the European Commission and ASEAN Member States undertook a stocktaking exercise to explore the prospect of resuming region-to-region negotiations but concluded that their respective positions remain too far apart. In September 2022, the ASEAN Economic Ministers-EU Consultation resulted in a decision to re-orient the Joint EU-ASEAN Working Group for the development of a Framework setting out the parameters of a future ASEAN-EU FTA. The Joint Working Group will now focus on sectoral cooperation on the digital economy, green technologies and green services, and supply-chain resilience. It is expected to hold its next meeting in June 2023.


Is there a reason why the EU doesn't pursue a FTA with each individual ASEAN country instead of a region-region agreement? I am guessing there are some legal limitations that makes it impossible to do it, but is there, or it's something that has to do with bureaucracy? It seems like they're discussing with individual countries, but trying to get a region-to-region free trade agreement.

1 Answer 1


It's not an either-or. ASEAN doesn't prevent members from negotiating FTAs on their own. For example Vietnam is a member of ASEAN but they also have an FTA with the EU.

In fact the EU itself tells the story more fully:

To secure better access to opportunities in the region's market, the European Union (EU) started negotiations with ASEAN for a region-to-region free trade agreement (FTA) in 2007. After negotiations were suspended in 2009, the EU decided to pursue bilateral trade agreements with the individual ASEAN member states. To date, six have begun talks on bilateral FTAs with the EU: Singapore and Malaysia in 2010; Vietnam in 2012; Thailand in 2013; the Philippines in 2015; and Indonesia in 2016. Negotiations have already been concluded and FTAs entered into force with two of these countries, Singapore and Vietnam, in November 2019 and August 2020, respectively. Negotiations continue with Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, while talks are currently on hold with Malaysia In the longer term, these bilateral FTAs would allow the establishment of a region-to-region FTA, which remains the EU's ultimate ambition.

You might be surprised, but many business in the EU would rather prefer they'd not have to deal with umpteen different foreign FTAs. And presently those cover only a part of ASEAN's trade with the EU. (One advantage that China has is that it's more unified in dealing with at least in some regards.) See e.g. responses to a questionnaire by some (big) German businesses:

Most participants (85 percent) state that an EU-ASEAN FTA would make ASEAN a more attractive sourcing market. Only five percent think that an FTA would not make ASEAN more attractive as a sourcing market.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64 percent) would prefer a regional FTA over bilateral FTAs with ASEAN countries. Only nine percent would prefer a bilateral agreement over a region-to-region agreement.

Nor is it uncommon for ASEAN to strike some deals as a whole

ASEAN has installed FTAs with close partners to promote trade and foreign investment. Currently, there are six ASEAN + 1 installed, namely with: China (came into force in 2005), Republic of Korea (2007), Japan (2008), India (2010), Australia and New Zealand (2011), and Hong Kong (2018). The agreements vary in scope, whereas the FTA with Australia and New Zealand [AANZFTA] is the most comprehensive one. [...] Generally speaking, the FTAs of the EU cover more topics and liberalise markets in a greater scope.

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