As global trade continues to face waves of uncertainty amidst the pandemic and ongoing geopolitical tensions, not least the unresolved trade war between the United States and China, the future of EU-Asia relations is going to be heavily impacted by the most recent development in the Asia-Pacific. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) signed last November is a symbol of a pan-Asian trade network, inspired by the belief that greater market openness will lead to greater economic prosperity.
The pandemic has cast a severe negative influence on the world economy. The Global Economic Outlook Report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that global GDP fell by 4.2% in 2020, which means that the total global economy dropped from $87.75 trillion in 2019 to $84.07 trillion in 2020, shrinking by $3.68 trillion.
Global trade experienced a sharp drop due to the spread of COVID-19 early last year but managed to recover to pre-pandemic level later in the same year. Japan was no exception to this trend. More than one-third of Japan’s total exports evaporated in the three month stretch between March and May last year, but its total exports rebounded and even exceeded pre-pandemic levels in October 2020.
The epidemic caused by Covid-19 began to spread out to the world in March 2020. As of February 2021, more than 100 million people around the world have been infected, with the death count exceeding 2.4 million, causing an international public health crisis that continues today. Vaccines are currently being distributed and Covid-19 treatments are in the final stages of development, but we still cannot predict when the pandemic will be over.
2020 was a terrible year for Asia but for some less than for others. A number of countries managed to grow positively despite the pandemic, with Mainland China as the most obvious example but not the only one. Taiwan grew above potential and Vietnam grew positively. The rest of Asia really had a hard time, especially India as well as Indonesia and the Philippines, due to the much wider spread of the pandemic and the limited fiscal and monetary space.
Between December 2020 and January 2021, the Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi made two official visits to Africa in a row (1st round: Tunisia, Mozambique, South Africa Mauritius, 2nd round: Senegal and Kenya) to discuss future collaboration with these countries with an eye set on the forthcoming TICAD8 to be held in Tunis in 2022. An annual visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi followed in early January 2021, kicking off the year of FOCAC to be held in Senegal this year.
There has been intensified geopolitical jostling in the Asian sphere towards the African continent in recent years, driven by, on one hand, Asian regional dynamics, and on the other, the opportunities that changes in Africa’s political economy have presented to external players. The promising narrative of ‘Africa’s rise’ has seen a growing number of Asian states vying to hold sway in Africa’s expanding markets and infrastructure development agenda. The struggle for influence is also manifesting strongly in the diplomatic arena.
Asia’s rising economic footprint in Africa became a significant talking point and the literature on Asian influence in Africa, often dubbed as the ‘new scramble for Africa’, proliferated. Although all the major Asian countries had already established long-term relationships with Africa, the 2000s saw a substantial deepening of economic relations between Asia and Africa. China was undoubtedly the most prominent among them. Chinese trade, investment, and official financial flows to Africa grew substantially from 2000 onwards.
Africa has been in the middle of unforeseen international competition for the better part of the past two decades. Both the return of traditional players – notably European countries and the United States – as well as a marked new interest shown by emerging economies led the continent out of the substantial neglect it suffered during the latter years of the past century.
The EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) was signed and adopted in July 2018 in parallel with the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). For now, the agreement is only provisionally as it is pending final approval. The SPA will enter into force after all EU members ratify the agreement (the Japanese parliament already ratified it in December 2018). The agreement covers EU-Japanese cooperation in international politics, economics, and security.
Asia is not only home to enormous flows of trade, but also political and security challenges. Power imbalances at the regional level are especially visible and risk undermining global stability. In particular, after the crisis, external actors like the US and the EU will be looking for new roles in the region.
A un anno dalla firma con cui il 29 febbraio 2020 l’allora segretario di Stato USA, Mike Pompeo, e il numero due dei Talebani, mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, hanno siglato uno storico accordo bilaterale, la pace in Afghanistan rimane lontana. E le prospettive di una riduzione sostanziale della violenza ancora effimere.