KUALA LUMPUR – The economic ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) vowed on Saturday to “stay on course” for the regional economic integration despite economic challenges emerging in recent months.
The ASEAN economic ministers’ meeting kicked off here Saturday to put the finishing touches to the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by year-end, while pushing closer ties with its leading trading partners including China.
Malaysian International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed, who chairs the meetings, warned that the 10-nation bloc is faced with new challenges, as “the global economic and political environment was very different just a few short months ago.”
These challenges include the fall in oil and commodity prices, the currency concerns and the external economic environment, “over which we have little control,” he said.
“Despite these challenges, we all agreed, that there will be no turning back on regional economic integration program, that we will stay the course,” he said in the opening address of the meetings.
The 10-nation bloc is set to announce the establishment of ASEAN community by the end of this year based on three pillars: political-security community, economic community and socio-cultural community.
Among the three, the economic community has triggered the most excitement. It seeks to formally establish a single market and production base among the 10 member states of ASEAN with a total population of more than 600 million.
Mustapa said more than 91 percent of the AEC Blueprint measures have been implemented and ASEAN members are working on another 46 measures.
“I must admit that the establishment of the AEC at the end of this year does not imply that come January 1, 2016, all red tape gets untangled, trade and investment flows freely across borders and that there will be free movement of people and harmonization of standards,” Mustapa said.
“But what the establishment of the AEC means is that ASEAN is reaching one of the key milestones on the ASEAN journey. The end of 2015 is by no means the end of the journey. It is the conclusion of one very important phase and the beginning of another,” he added.
Mustapa said ASEAN is committed to reducing the gaps among its members and engage more intensively with its dialogue partners.
ASEAN, established on Aug 8, 1967, groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.