Ball is in Europe's court now

Updated: 2014-12-01 09:03

By MIKE BASTIN(China Daily)

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Ball is in Europe's court now


APEC meet in Beijing has created major investment opportunities for EU business community

The latest Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Beijing has just wrapped up, but has it been just another meeting among Asia-Pacific leaders? It has not. This Beijing conference, with the theme of "partnership" and "togetherness", perhaps marks the first major step toward a more harmonious Asia-Pacific and more economic integration across the region.

The European economy, still sluggish at best, could not have received a greater boost.

On the political front, substantial progress has been made with what were tense relations between many of the Asia-Pacific's major economies. Hence, a more stable region is now likely. Even the United States now appears to welcome the rise of China after a very public statement from US President Barack Obama.

A handshake, albeit lukewarm, between President Xi Jinping and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe at this meeting also signified major progress in diplomatic relations between these drivers of economic development across the region.

European businesses should interpret these developments positively. This latest APEC meeting represents a great advertisement for European investment in the Asia-Pacific region.

In addition to real progress in government relations across the region and between the US and China, the Beijing APEC meeting led to further discussion and development of a number of exciting initiatives that will boost trade and investment across the Asia-Pacific region.

That is excellent news for European business, especially those with plans of expanding across the Asia-Pacific.

The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is just one of these numerous initiatives discussed and developed further at the meeting. Even leaders of the World Bank now acknowledge the legitimacy of this new investment bank, despite initial doubts.

Such a regional and infrastructure-focused investment should lead to major and imminent economic growth across Asia's poorer areas. Infrastructure development is that essential building block to sustainable and rapid industrialization.

As a result, European businesses should now be following developments in the region and activity at the AIIB closely. Many of Asia's poorer countries will now present attractive investment and trade opportunities with AIIB-financed seed capital. European businesses now have a real opportunity to expand deeper into the Asia-Pacific with the opportunity of securing the often highly prized first-mover advantage.

AIIB discussions at the Beijing APEC meeting also repeated the request for private capital to form part of the bank's initial infrastructure-focused investment funds. This poses another opportunity for European investors.

But what should excite and energize European business most is another China-led initiative discussed at the Beijing APEC meeting: a free trade area across the entire Asia-Pacific region.

In fact, this meeting's theme of partnership and economic integration permeated and steered just about every debate and discussion that took place.

In my experience, working with European businesses and their Asia expansion plans has often involved an extremely piecemeal, disjointed approach to the region. But for the first time there now appears to be a definite path toward significant economic integration across the Asia-Pacific region. European businesses can, therefore, now alter their approach and mindset where Asia is concerned and begin to plot a more "joined-up" expansion strategy.

China's vision of a free trade area across the Asia-Pacific region by 2025 represents an exciting, ambitious objective that will lead to even greater investment and trade opportunities. Most significantly, this initiative signifies a strategy of real engagement by China across the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world.

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