Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have cited economic integration progress in areas ranging from energy, transportation and trade to expanding ties beyond the regional bloc.
“We were pleased with Asean’s unwavering commitment to its economic integration agenda amidst the sluggish economic environment and trends toward protectionism,” the ministers said in a communiqué.
Efforts to implement the Asean Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint 2025, along with corresponding sectoral work plans, were noted. Initiatives to enhance the environment for micro, small and medium enterprises – an area being championed by the Philippines – were also cited.
The ministers cited progress in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations, which aim to create a wider bloc composed of ASEAN’s 10 member-economies and trading partners China, Japan, Australia, India, South Korea and New Zealand.
The proposed trade deal has been described as having the potential to deliver significant opportunities for the East Asia region, given the fact that the 16 RCEP countries account for almost half of the world’s population, contribute about 30 per cent of global gross domestic product and over a quarter of world exports.
The ministers noted progress in the implementation of the 2016-2025 Kuala Lumpur Transport Strategic Plan 2016-2025 and welcomed the adoptions of a cooperation framework on certifications for near coastal voyages and the Asean Intelligent Transport Systems Policy Framework 2.0.
Member states were cited for fulfilling initial commitments to the Asean Minerals Trust fund and the ministers also noted that cooperation would be enhanced with the adoption of the Asean+3 Minerals Cooperation Work Plan for 2016-2020.
For energy, they commended the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the First Phase of the Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project, and progress to raise renewable energy use in the region.
With regard to information and communications technology, efforts to “steer Asean towards a more dynamic, creative, and innovative region in an interconnected and interoperable digital economy” were said to have been complemented via the adoption of the Asean Framework on Personal Data Protection and the Asean Cybersecurity Cooperation Strategy.
An implementation scheme for the Asean Plan of Action on Science, Technology and Innovation 2016-2025 was also welcomed.
In terms of finance and banking, the signing of a protocol to implement financial services commitments was welcomed, along with a banking integration deal between Malaysia and Indonesia and the conclusion of talks between the Philippines and Malaysia on the same issue.
“Significant progress”, meanwhile, was noted in terms of the Strategic Plan for ASEAN Cooperation in Food, Agriculture and Forestry 2016-2025.
Tourism gains were cited, with Asean said to have received 115.8 million international visitors in 2016.
The adoption of the ASEAN Trade Facilitation Framework was welcomed, along with economic ministers decision to set a 2020 target to achieve 10% reduction in trade transaction costs by 2020 that would hasten the practice of accepted professionals beyond boundaries.
Initiatives to improve statistical cooperation and e-commerce were welcomed and lastly, the ministers noted challenges to mutual recognition arrangements.