Analysts say plans for ASEAN integration have suffered a setback
By Valarie Tan, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 17 April 2009 2045 hrs
SINGAPORE: Plans for an integrated economy in Southeast Asia by 2015 have suffered a setback, according to analysts at the 2nd ASEAN and Asia Forum in Singapore. They said that the recent political turmoil in Thailand will delay plans for closer economic ties in the region.
It was hardly the land of smiles, when Thai anti-government protesters stormed into the venue of the ASEAN summit in Pattaya last weekend. Analysts said that such crises at home, on top of coping with the global recession, are top of the agenda for leaders in Southeast Asia now. And this will leave them with little room for ASEAN integration.
Intra-ASEAN investments account for only 11 per cent of total investment in the region. And, surveys on businesses found further disparities within ASEAN. For example, it takes four days to set up a business in Singapore, compared to four months in Brunei. In Vietnam, a construction permit can be obtained in six months, compared to two years in Cambodia.
Analysts at the forum also said that some countries, like Indonesia, frustrated at the lag in ASEAN economic integration, are even turning to other regional groupings like G20.
Timothy Ong, chairman of Brunei Economic Development Board, said: "At a time when regional cooperation is so important, it is also a time when leaders are most distracted. Traditionally, ASEAN has been good in this, particularly in response to political threats. Now we need to make sure ASEAN is also good at it with respect to economic challenges."
Analysts called on regional governments to refrain from protectionist measures, saying that the region still has many opportunities for businesses to tap on, including the energy sector.
Dr Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, said: "(This is) especially in the context of the climate change agenda. There are ways of looking at carbon capture. There are talks about green industry, green jobs in order to create greater ecological sustainability. These are all tremendous opportunities."
Analysts also asked for more private participation in sectors such as utilities, which are traditionally state-owned.