Your Majesty, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great honour and a great pleasure for me to welcome you to London for the second Asia-Europe Meeting. The idea for a forum to bring together Asia and Europe was first proposed by Prime Minister Goh of Singapore in 1994. The inaugural meeting was held in Bangkok two years ago. I am delighted that it now falls to the UK, to London and to this Government to act as host to the first Asia Europe Meeting on European soil.
The idea behind ASEM when it was established was simple. It was that Europe and Asia shared many things in common, but that there was no collective forum in which we could meet and exchange our ideas.
I want this conference to fill that void and address the key challenges that we jointly face be they economic, environmental, social, or political.
Europe and Asia have a relationship, which day by day grows more closely interrelated. More mutually interdependent. In business and trade. For example exports from the European Union to Asia in 1996 totalled $204 billion. More than US exports to the whole region. At the same time the 15 countries of the EU import some $238 billion worth of Asian goods.
We both also face the growing challenge of globalisation. Of markets. Of decision making. Of new technology. We need to respond to those changes in such a way as to build on the opportunities they offer, while recognising potential threats too. In particular, we need to focus on changes that are of direct benefit to our people. Changes that can make a difference for the better.
Similarly, environmental issues do not recognise international boundaries. We need to tackle those issues which affect us all wherever we live. Tackling pollution, improving the environment and ensuring that our children will inherit a world at least as rich and diverse as our own.
Two years ago in Bangkok, Asia and Europe recognised that, by working together, they would be much better placed to face the challenges of change and globalization.
Few then would have predicted the financial difficulties Asia has faced over the last few months. Clearly, their impact has been felt first and foremost in Asia itself. But in todays interdependent world, we in Europe cannot afford to turn our backs.
That makes this summit so timely. This is not a mere talking shop. We have real work to do. Work that matters for all our people in their everyday lives. Although much has already been achieved, we are not at the end of the Asian financial crisis. We still face four key challenges:
* first, how we can work together to resolve this crisis and limit the impact on the global economy. In particular, how we can increase co-operation in the field of technical assistance;
* second how we can limit the social impact of the crisis;
* third how we can help to maintain open markets and further trade liberalisation to help resolve the crisis; and
* fourth, how can we strengthen the international monetary system to prevent this type of crisis from re-occurring
We have already made a start. We are launching at this summit an ASEM Trust Fund, under the auspices of the World Bank. Such a fund will be able to offer technical support for financial restructuring and to look at mechanisms for mobilising European expertise in structural reform to provide help to the Asian economies.
We must also resist demands that we should look inwards in times of difficulty. Our joint aim must be to open up more markets. To reduce barriers to trade, increase investment and promote competition. Based on greater economic stability, transparency and confidence in financial markets. In that way we shall all benefit.
Europe will benefit from an open Asia. Asia will benefit from an open Europe. In our world today, the more transparent, the more disciplined our financial systems, the more committed we all are to trade between our countries, the better for all of us.
I want us over the next two days to tackle the other challenges I have outlined. To work together with the IMF, to help restore market confidence and economic growth in Asia.
We in Europe have a real opportunity to show that we meant what we said about partnership. That we are not fair-weather friends, who turn away at the first sign of difficulty. But partners for the long term, ready to stick by Asia through thick and thin.
There is, however, more on our agenda than trade, finance and commerce. The ASEM process gives Asia and Europe the opportunity to have a new and more mature political dialogue. To meet in private and talk frankly, but with mutual respect, about the issues that matter to us. Global issues such as the environment, international crime and drugs, and fundamental rights.
We all share the same aims. To deliver results that make a real difference to the lives of our peoples. We have already announced an important initiative to help tackle environmental disasters. We shall also be looking at ways to secure a brighter future for our children, through cooperation on their welfare and their education. We must do more to establish links and exchanges between our schools, colleges and universities. To raise mutual understanding of our countries.
Asia and Europe have achieved a lot together in the last two years. But we still have much to do over the next two days. This meeting must build on the foundations laid in Bangkok.
As we approach the end of this millenium we face a challenge. That challenge is how to build a stronger, richer fairer and more decent society for all our people.
We, the political leadership of Europe and Asia, must demonstrate to our peoples that we are working together, deepening and broadening our cooperation to improve their lives. That together we are building a new partnership between Europe and Asia for the 21st century.