For the European Union, a close and deep partnership with member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is of high importance. Our relationship is well defined already by the fact that the European Union is the first investor and second-largest trading partner of Asean.
It is therefore no surprise that both sides are also working hard to increase transportation links and overall connectivity. Indeed, effective transportation networks represent the vital arteries through which our people and businesses may flourish. Connectivity is a key element in further deepening our relationship and creating a lot of new opportunities for both parties.
On May 9, or Europe Day, I will have the honor of co-chairing the second Asean-EU Transport Dialogue in Phuket, Thailand. Why is this dialogue important? Quite simply because both sides wish to deepen transportation links by land, air and sea so that those arteries can ensure an even stronger pulse and push of economic activity. We are already making great strides forward. We are currently negotiating a comprehensive air transportation agreement, which will represent the very first block-to-block accord and contribute substantially to further deepening our aviation links.
Until now, all such agreements have led to "win-win" outcomes, increasing substantially business and tourist exchanges as well as connectivity between key partners. Leading airlines operating between Southeast Asia and Europe are certainly well placed to benefit from this agreement. We are also increasing our cooperation on aviation, maritime and road safety, while showing leadership in international fora on cutting transportation emissions.
Through a €200 million ($239 million) cooperation budget, the European Union is an engaged supporter of the Master Plan on Asean Connectivity 2025. In addition, the European Union is developing an EU-Asia connectivity strategy in which Asean will play a key role. This is crucial too. While some have started to question globalization and are retreating into economic nationalism, it is important that we seek to bolster global links, make them work for all and show their true value. On connectivity, we must embrace inclusiveness to ensure that all countries benefit.
Second, respecting the rules, such as transparency and a level playing field for all economic actors is fundamental. We all live on and must share this planet. Environmental, social and financial sustainability is therefore a must if our people are to continue to embrace increased openness and cooperation.
Finally, transportation is destined to be revolutionized more over the next 10 years than in the past 50. And the lifeblood of this transformation is digitalization. Working closely together, supporting innovation while providing a positive regulatory background, Asean and the European Union can provide leadership to successfully address challenges to ensure we all benefit from the new technological wizardry. One of the great positive disruptors of the last century was Henry Ford. He famously said, "coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success."
Concerning the "beginning," last year the European Union and Asean celebrated 40 years of formal relations. Throughout this period, we have certainly made much progress in our cooperation. Our Asean-EU Transport Dialogue illustrates how we are now committed to working ever more closely together. Put simply: we need global solutions to global challenges. Asean and the European Union together represent natural partners that can make a very significant contribution indeed.
Henrik Hololei is director general for mobility and transportation at the European Commission.