On the lookout: An armed government security officer remains on the alert at the VIP section of Phnom Penh International Airport as delegations arrive for the 21st ASEAN and East Asia summits in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Saturday. (Reuters/Damir Sagoji)
Indonesia has been showing signs of steady improvement ahead of the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, according to an assessment, although there was still some work that needed to be done, Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan said on Saturday
“Previously in 2008-2009 and 2010-2011, we reached a total score of only 74,” he said after the Preparatory ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) meeting in Phnom Penh.
“The latest assessment shows that we have made a considerable leap to reach a score of 82, putting us in third position below Singapore and Malaysia with 84.”
He also said that to achieve a score of 100 percent on all the requirements would be too idealistic, maintaining, however, that it would be more “realistic to aim for about 90 percent to 95 percent”.
While it may not fully meet the requirements, 90 to 95 percent would be a good achievement, he added.
Gita said that Indonesia would continue to improve based on the understanding that the AEC would not come into effect in early or mid-2015 but toward the end of 2015.
“We will not force things; we will instead merely consolidate our achievements looking toward the end of 2015,” he said.
When asked what could be done to improve the country’s score ahead of the AEC, Gita said that the national single window and infrastructure needed to be improved.
A single-window system allows cross-border traders to submit regulatory documents at a single location.
Gita added that Indonesia could not fully liberalize its market because it was related to political, economic and social developments.
“The Philippines and Thailand face similar limitations. So, instead of being too idealistic and ambitious, let’s be more realistic,” he said.
When asked about the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Gita said there were various measures that could be used, both bilateral and multilateral, and that Indonesia was being careful in allocating its resources in terms of time and energy.
“We do not want to shift our focus because the RCEP is very important,” he stressed. “If we can complete the RCEP process when the AEC is being implemented, that would be amazing.”
He added that the RCEP should be considered a rewrapping of all the free trade agreements between ASEAN and its six partners or ASEAN+6 of Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
The RCEP will integrate the 16 countries into a single market comprising more than 3 billion people and with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of around US$17.23 trillion.
Meanwhile, territorial disputes and human rights issues are among the top priorities in the high-level forum.
The Associated Press reported that disputes over South China Sea territories were expected to overshadow the summit of Southeast Asian countries that opened Saturday, with host Cambodia seeking damage control after the previous regional meeting it hosted collapsed over how to handle the territorial conflicts involving China.
President Barack Obama will join the summit on Tuesday in his first appearance on the world diplomatic stage since his reelection. His Southeast Asian trip — which is to include the first visit to Myanmar by a US president — will highlight America’s pivot to the economically vibrant region as a counterweight to China’s rapid rise, but is also likely to see him tread on a tightrope over delicate regional issues like the territorial rifts and human rights.