The Jakarta Post
As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) celebrates its 47th anniversary this year and will implement the single market by the end of 2015, all member states need to move forward and work together to develop the association into a dignified regional grouping, according to Myanmar President U Thein Sein.
Thein Sein made this announcement on Monday during the opening of the 46th ASEAN Economic Ministers' Meeting and Related Meetings in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar.
In his speech, the president encouraged ASEAN member states to make collective efforts for the region's economic integration through the free flow of goods, services and investment, skilled labors, as well as capital.
"I believe tariff liberalization and establishment of ASEAN Single Window will enhance trade flows across and beyond the region," Thein Sein said.
The region's goal of becoming a solid economic entity was first announced at the 1997 ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, during which state leaders declared the ASEAN Vision 2020. The vision established a foundation for the region's continuing transformation into a stable, prosperous and highly competitive entity.
The Vision 2020 also paved the way for the creation of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which is due for implementation by the end of 2015.
In addition, President Thein Sein said that in order to make the region a prosperous and developed community, three priority areas would need to become the focus of actions; improving small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) development, enhancing public-private partnerships and extending ASEAN and the AEC beyond 2015.
Thein Sein also welcomed efforts to build cooperation in the health sector as well as the establishment of mutual-recognition agreements among ASEAN states, particularly those in accountancy services and investment.
"We also acknowledge the cooperation in the liberalization of financial services under the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services [AFAS]," he said.
Among the agreements expected to be signed during the 46th ASEAN Economic Meeting and Related Meetings are those regarding medical device directives and accountancy services.
Given the fact that disparities remain in terms of economic growth among ASEAN state members, the development of the SMEs is considered an essential program as it is expected to create jobs and eventually support economic growth.
Myanmar, which this year chairs ASEAN, is in charge of promoting the SMEs development within the regional grouping. "ASEAN is implementing the framework for equitable economic development to narrow the development gap [among member states]," Thein Sein said.
In its operation, the ASEAN Framework for Equitable Economic Development (AFEED) receives technical assistance from the World Bank, whose monitoring report will be presented at the 25th ASEAN Summit in November in Myanmar.
In the meantime, ASEAN has so far established free trade agreements with its six dialogue partners; China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The group anticipates negotiations regarding a free trade agreement with Hong Kong to begin soon.
The association is also negotiating with its six dialogue partners on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which jointly has a GDP of about US$17 trillion and accounts for some 40 percent of world trade.
Meanwhile, Myanmar's Minister for National Planning and Economic Development Kan Zaw acknowledged the difficulties posed by development gaps among ASEAN member states.
"Though we are trying our best to narrow the development gaps among ASEAN members, it remains a great threat to the sustainability of the group's social economic development," he said.
The minister, therefore, called on member states to strengthen unity and jointly address the issues, including enhancing ASEAN connectivity and promoting the SMEs.
According to Kan Zaw, the 46th ASEAN Economic Minister Meeting is crucial in the sense that it will help members develop better visions and strategies ahead of the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community.
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