Trade leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) at the World Economic Forum (WEF) underlined the need to enhance trade connectivity in the proposed Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 to boost the region’s economic development.
The formulation of uniform trade and customs policies was cited as one of the priorities in the process of ironing out the integration of 600 million people with a total gross domestic product of $1.5 trillion and total trade of $1.7 trillion into a single economic community.
The AEC aims to create a developed, highly competitive and economically integrated market and production base in Asean by 2015.
During WEF’s “Connect on Trade: Lifting Barriers to Growth” session, Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo, Malaysia’s Trade Minsiter Mustapa Mohamed, Indonesia’s Trade and Industry Minister Muhammad Lutfi, Cambodia’s Senior Minister Sun Chanthol, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, and Mitsubishi Corporation Chairman Yorihiko Kojima echoed the need to further liberalize trade within the region.
“There is one area of challenge and also area of opportunity for Asean if we [want to]fully realize the idea of AEC—Asean Connectivity,” Teo said.
“In making sure that there are free flow of goods and services, Asean connectivity is center to this and single market and production base is just one of the pillars of AEC.
There are other three important [subjects], like equitable economic development, and integration to [the]global economy, in order to achieve [the needed]connectivity,” she added.
Domingo, for his part, said, “I would say that liberalization has worked well in the Philippines. It definitely made many of our sectors very competitive globally and it has allowed us to outperform other sectors.”
Domingo cited electronics, information and communications technology (ICT) centers, high-end garments and furniture production as some of the competitive industries of the Philippine. He acknowledged, however, that there are still many industries need to improve.
“The Philippines welcomes the continued liberalization. In the Global Enabling Trade Survey of the WEF, the Philippines ranked very high. We are one of the countries [with the]least barrier to trade and continue to take that position,” he said.
Domingo added, “We need to address the concerns of small and medium entrepreneurs (SMEs). There [is]very little awareness [in]Asean in [the]grass roots level. The Philippines needs to [support SMEs].”
Trade leaders maintained that Asean connectivity supported by infrastructures, communication networks, and unified customs policies could easily help the proposed economic community achieve competitive growth and economic development and facilitate the movement of people, goods and services within the region.
Two flagship projects have been set as the main vehicles of the AEC in pursuing land transport connectivity: for highways, the ASEAN Highway Network (AHN) and, for rail, the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link (SKRL).
Individual member states, however, are struggling to mobilize finances for the cited projects, resulting in significant delays in implementation. Meanwhile, the Asean Single Aviation Market has been designed as the region’s major aviation policy geared towards the development of a unified and single aviation market in the region by 2015.
The forum also addressed bridging the digital divide and strengthening Asean’s capacity to implement its ICT Master Plan.
Asean trade leaders vowed support for the implementation of the Asean Single Window for custom clearance to unburden businesses. They also discussed plans for the harmonization of trade and industry policies and standards as well as the identification of priority industry sectors in collaboration with the private sector.