BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – ASEAN has left the door open for the United Kingdom to be admitted as a dialogue partner despite the regional bloc’s moratorium on new dialogue partnerships since 1999.

On Thursday, Brunei’s second foreign affairs minister YB Dato Seri Setia Hj Erywan PDPJ Hj Md Yusof said Southeast Asian nations would welcome the UK as ASEAN’s dialogue partner but senior officials are still ironing out requirements of the admission process.

“I can safely say that we all support the idea of UK becoming a dialogue partner. But ASEAN is an association with principles.

“We have to be guided by the principles that we have set, in this case, it’s the moratorium [on new dialogue partners],” the minister said at a press conference after the conclusion of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat.

Dato Erywan held virtual talks with his Southeast Asian counterparts on Thursday, the first major ASEAN meeting chaired by Brunei this year.

He added that ASEAN is currently working on guidelines and criteria to evaluate the awarding of dialogue partner status to the UK.

The British government has been pushing to establish a formal relationship with ASEAN as it seeks to forge closer economic ties with Asia after its withdrawal from the European Union.

The UK Foreign Office submitted an application to become an ASEAN dialogue partner last June.

“As Asia grows in importance, Britain will cooperate even more closely with our friends in the region.

“By becoming one of ASEAN’s dialogue partners, we can strengthen our ability to cooperate across the Indo-Pacific region, as a force for good, on everything from climate change to regional stability,” the British foreign secretary Dominic Raab had said in a statement.

The total trade in goods and services between the UK and ASEAN member states increased 12.2 percent to US$52.13 billion in 2019, according to figures from the UK Foreign Office.

ASEAN has 10 dialogue partners, including Australia, China, India, Japan, the United States and the European Union.