Despite the Myanmar issue causing a dent in ASEAN’s credibility, the chair and host of the 13th ASEAN Summit was determined not to let the situation in Myanmar overshadow the other pressing issues of economic integration and environmental protection.
On Tuesday (20 November), ASEAN endorsed an economic community blueprint with a target date of 2015. Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong said while a 100% free trade environment may be hard to achieve, he believes that substantial liberalisation in areas such as goods and services, investments and movement of people will be possible in seven years. To demonstrate that Singapore will play its part in trying to foster greater integration by helping close the development gap, Singapore has pledged another S$30 million more for technical assistance programmes to the Initiative for Asean Integration (IAI) for three years, starting from 2009. This commitment brings Singapore's total contribution to IAI to $118 million since the IAI was launched in 2001.
ASEAN's Secretary General Ong Keng Yong had said earlier that the economic blueprint signed at the Summit will also help the lesser developed ASEAN economies socialise and integrate faster into the global marketplace. Above all, it will help ASEAN become a lot more competitive in the onslaught of China and India. Ong said, “In ASEAN, we have ten different countries and… ten different borders where we have to pay transactional costs when we bring in or out our goods. All these bring up the costs of transactions… if we want to compete with the bigger economies, the ten borders that we have should become one… this integration is essential to make our competition more effective.” To achieve all this, there are specific timelines for key areas of work to be done. However, unless all the member states are willing to put in the effort, economic integration process will not be successful.
On a related note –but not tabled at the ASEAN Summit –Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam are to set up an exchange for regional trading in late 2008. Nongram Wongwanich, a senior executive vice president of the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET), said that large-cap shares in each participating country could be exchanged on the new trading board to boost the attractiveness of the Asian market for foreign investors. Nongram said, “This initiative will make the Asian market a single product for investors, who currently have to take time and consume lots of capital to make their investment in each local bourse.” Chiefs of each of the six stock exchanges will take place this Sunday (1 December) to discuss the details of the operations.
Additionally, the ASEAN Declaration on Environmental Sustainability was also signed. it vowed that the “ASEAN should complement and support the efforts of global and regional organizations to tackle environment issues, and in this regard support the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' Declaration on Climate Change, Energy Security and Clean Development”. Three main aspects will be tackled –environmental protection and management, responding to climate change, and conservation of natural resources. This will encompass sustainable forest management in ASEAN, combating land degradation, and protecting the natural resource base for economic and social development.
This was reinforced at the East Asia Summit following the ASEAN Summit in Singapore. Leaders of 16 Asia-Pacific countries, including China, India, Australia and New Zealand, pledged to reduce the harmful effects of climate change in a declaration that also called for the development of a more effective blueprint to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The declaration also undertook regional cooperation in the use of clean energy, enhanced energy efficiency and the increment of the region's forest cover by at least 15 million hectares by 2020. This declaration was further boosted byJapan’s generous aid offer of 2 billion USD to o help developing Asian nations fight pollution and combat climate change. (22 November 2007)
Sources:Six Asian nations planning common stock exchange –Thai official (Thomson Financial, 21 November 2007)ASEAN summit in S'pore achieves significant steps forward: PM Lee (Channel News Asia, 21 November 2007)
Japan pledges Asia aid to fight climate change (AFP, 21 November 2007)
16 Asia-Pacific countries sign environment pact (Channel News Asia, 21 November 2007)
ASEAN leaders adopt ASEAN Declaration on Environmental Sustainability (Xinhua, 20 November 2007)
ASEAN Economic Blueprint aims to harmonize business rules (Channel News Asia, 11 November 2007)