KUALA LUMPUR: As the United Kingdom (UK) prepares for its exit from the European Union (EU), it is looking at more collaboration with emerging economies in the South East Asian region.
UK’s Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field said that while there was a tendency to concentrate on the likes of China, India and Japan, the countries in the Asean region were just as significant.
“This is an amazingly important region with countries that are growing well but more importantly where there is some fondness for the UK and we want to make sure the relationship becomes more extensive and stronger in the years to come,” he told the Star Online in an interview here.
Field is currently in Malaysia for a three-day working visit. He said that while Britain’s relationship with the EU would remain important, they were also looking further afield to build a deep and comprehensive relationship Asia, particularly in South-East Asia.
Currently, 45% of Britain’s trade is with the EU and Field believes that it would remain above 35% by 2030.
“We are currently dialogue partners with Asean under that EU umbrella. That will stay the same, not just until we leave the EU but also the transition period beyond that. We are very much hoping to have a smoother transition of that relationship with Asean,” said Field who will also be visiting Ipoh and Penang.
The Brexit process was triggered in March 2017 after a referendum the previous year saw a majority of voters electing to leave the EU, which is an economic and political partnership made up of 28 European countries.
Britain is scheduled to leave EU in March 2019 and as this happens, Field says that their room for manoeuvre will become greater.
“Britain is determined to ensure we maintain strong bilateral ties with Malaysia that exist between our governments, our businesses, our schools and most critically, our people-to-people links,” he said pointing out that there were about 19,000 Malaysian students in Britain.
Trade between both countries is estimated to be at about RM10.7bil per year in each direction, with Field hoping this will increase.
He said that other areas of cooperation between both countries included security, intelligence and defence.
Field had met Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik, Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Datuk Marzuki Yahya and Deputy Home Affairs Minister Datuk Aziz Jamman.
He had also met with Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, Opposition leader Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and civil society leaders.