Europe should take opportunities to partner Asian economies for benefit of both sides, says PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attending the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) on Oct 16, 2014 in Milan, Italy. -- PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attending the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) on Oct 16, 2014 in Milan, Italy. -- PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attending the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting on Oct 16, 2014 in Milan, Italy. On the right is Russian Foreign Affairs minister Sergei Lavrov. -- PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attending the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting on Oct 16, 2014 in Milan, Italy. On the right is Russian Foreign Affairs minister Sergei Lavrov. -- PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong flanked by German chancellor Angela Merkel and Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas at the ASEM summit opening ceremony. In front of Mr Lee are Chinese premier Li Keqiang and European Commission president Jose Manuel Ba
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong flanked by German chancellor Angela Merkel and Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas at the ASEM summit opening ceremony. In front of Mr Lee are Chinese premier Li Keqiang and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso. -- PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is flanked by German chancellor Angela Merkel and Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas at the Asia-Europe Meeting summit opening ceremony. In front of Mr Lee are Chinese premier Li Keqiang and European Commiss
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is flanked by German chancellor Angela Merkel and Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas at the Asia-Europe Meeting summit opening ceremony. In front of Mr Lee are Chinese premier Li Keqiang and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso. -- PHOTO:  CHEW SENG KIM
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong waves to fellow Asian and European leaders at the opening ceremony of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Milan on Thursday Oct 16. To Mr Lee's right (in glasses) is Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy secretary Sim
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong waves to fellow Asian and European leaders at the opening ceremony of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Milan on Thursday Oct 16. To Mr Lee's right (in glasses) is Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy secretary Simon Wong. -- PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

MILAN - Even as European leaders grapple with more pressing economic concerns, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday reminded them to seize the many opportunities to partner Asia and benefit both continents.

Europe still has know-how, capabilities and resources that will be very useful to Asia in areas such as urban solutions, infrastructure development and financing, where many European companies are world leaders.

And Asia's rising incomes and growing middle-class are creating new markets for goods and services, and opportunities for institutional investors, he told leaders on the opening day of the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in Milan.

"There is a lot of synergy between our two continents and I hope that we will be able to develop them and strengthen our links," he said.

One way to strengthen economic ties and benefit both sides, he said, was to work towards a European Union (EU)-Asean free trade agreement (FTA).

Speaking before Mr Lee, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso noted that the EU had concluded an FTA with Singapore late last year.

Together with other FTAs that the EU is negotiating with South-east Asian countries - Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam - these could form the building blocks for an eventual EU-Asean FTA, Mr Barroso said.

This year's summit, with "Responsible Partnership for Growth and Security" as its theme, has added interest because of continued weakness in the global economy and concerns over conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine.

zakirh@sph.com.sg