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ASEAN and AEC : look beyond 2015

ASEAN member states are confident that by end-2015, at least 95 percent of the measures under the ASEAN Economic Community AEC Blueprint will be implemented.

Boris Sullivan

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ASEAN member states are confident that by end-2015, at least 95 percent of the measures under the ASEAN Economic Community AEC Blueprint will be implemented.

A slight shortfall is expected and measures not achieved within the target year will be continued and incorporated into the Post 2015 Economic Vision that is now being developed, according to Malaysia’s Minister of International and Industry, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed.Briefing Malaysian reporters on the progress here this morning, he said the overall average ASEAN implementation rate of measures under the AEC Blueprint was a credible 82.1 percent, and slightly higher for Malaysia at 83.9 percent.

Now, almost five decades after the organization’s founding, ASEAN is pursuing a more ambitious form of economic integration as a tool for achieving broader regional prosperity and greater global competitiveness. This aspiration is not yet a working reality on the ground, but there has been tangible progress in areas such as eliminating tariffs. If the region’s leaders succeed in dismantling other types of barriers that hinder the movement of goods, services, capital, and skilled workers across its borders, ASEAN stands to reap the benefits of increased trade, production, and investment.

He said the progress has been encouraging despite challenges faced by countries in aligning domestic economic policies to the regional commitment.

The 10 Asean countries have a combined population of 617 million people and Gross Domestic Product of $2.5 trillion and growing at an average 5.3 percent for the period 2006-2013.

However, ASEAN officials have recently indicated that the date of Dec. 31, 2015, should not be seen as a deadline, but an important milestone in a progressive process. Officials are drawing up a new roadmap for ASEAN community building covering a 10-year period subsequent to the current roadmap for 2009-2015.

In developing the next roadmap, ASEAN leaders are poised to take into account upcoming challenges the bloc  faces in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, while continuing to work on unfinished job left over from the first roadmap, scholars told Xinhua in interviews ahead of the ASEAN summit and related meetings.

“When the AEC vision was created earlier, the world economy was quite different,” said Kaewkamol Pitakdumrongkit, an assistant professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

The ASEAN Community comprises three pillars: the AEC, the ASEAN Political-Security Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. While it is difficult to quantify the progress, a scorecard gauging the progress released by the ASEAN Secretariat in May shows that the bloc has achieved 80 percent of the required steps.

Most recently, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a forum that ASEAN has achieved some 85 percent of the targets set out.

ASEAN may not necessarily get an honor, but it will pass the exam, he said.

ASEAN has made remarkable achievements in terms of free trade of goods, with tariffs already close to zero on most of the products. The AEC vision is defined by factors, such as a single market and production base, a competitive economic region, equitable economic development and integration into the global economy.

Observers said that the remaining 15 percent of the targets, though only a small part, are the hard ones, as they may involve domestic efforts.Kaewkamol said these mainly fall into issue areas such as non-tariff barriers, services trade liberalization, investment liberalization and free flow of people, particularly skilled labor.

There are also challenges arising from the changing global economic landscape.The European economy remains weak and the recovery in the United States has been slow.

Meanwhile, the ever closer integration of the regional production network has been a key factor, too, Kaewkamol said.

“These immediate challenges we have to address in 10 years. I think these elements will be put into the vision beyond 2015,” he said.

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