• Regional integration achievable

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    With a positive outlook for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2013, the establishment of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 can be achieved, but some “key challenges” remain.

    “Despite risks caused by global financial crisis and other challenges including weak external demand, rising food and energy prices and growing global economic imbalances, the 2013 outlook for Asean remains broadly positive,” said Asean Secretary-General Le Luong Minh.

    According to Minh, Asean is projected to grow by at least 5.3 percent this year, with strong domestic demand to continue to support that growth. And with the global trade for goods expected to grow by 3.6 percent this year, Asean trade rate is also expected to grow by 3.6 percent.

    Minh said that these numbers make Asean viable for global, regional and local investments, and prove that the region is inching its way closer to integration. He said that while the current global uncertainty will cause the regional growth to be modest, economic activity in the region will remain robust.

    “A positive trend is also reflected in the rate of implementation of the AEC Blueprint. By the end of July 2013, around 79.7 percent of measures have been implemented, with significant results across the four pillars of the AEC as a single market and production base; a highly competitive economic region; a region of equitable development; and a region fully integrated into the global economy,” Minh said.

    “In a recent survey, 95 percent of the companies consulted expressed their confidence that Asean would be able to achieve its vision of an economic community as a major pillar of the Asean community,” he added.

    But Minh also said that achieving that vision is very challenging because of a number of concerns, including the implementation of regional commitments by the member-states and the development gaps between them. He said that the implementation of measures to narrow these gaps is being hampered by constraints in resources.

    “There has been considerable difficulty in transporting regional commitments, both intra-Asean and extra-Asean commitments, into domestic laws and regulations due to lack of capacity and financial resources. Without full implementation of the regional commitments at the national level, regional economic integration cannot progress,” he said.

    Another concern is the dissemination of information on the region’s integration efforts. Minh cited a 2012 survey on Asean Community Building, which was conducted in the 10 capital cities in Asean. Seventy-six percent of respondents said that they don’t know what the Asean community is, 55 percent of businessmen surveyed said they know at least the basics, while 30 percent showed a lack of basic understanding.

    Minh said that this lack of awareness and understanding of what the AEC is, in addition to the development gaps between the member-states and poor implementation of regional commitments, is something that must be addressed as soon as possible.

    “Thus, there is a need for more concerted actions and better coordination at the national and regional levels as well as further enhancement of the support and compliance mechanisms in Asean. There is also a need to intensify our communication efforts to the public and to our business community, who should be kept well-informed and consulted on AEC initiatives,” Minh said.

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