The Brunei Times: Barriers to regional integration tabled at S’pore meet

REGIONAL business leaders are set to tackle issues that hinder the creation of an integrated ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) at the Network ASEAN Forum that will be held today in Singapore.

The forum, organised by the ASEAN Business Club (ABC) and the CIMB ASEAN Research Institute (CARI), is premised on three goals: to identify bottlenecks and free trade barriers; to construct solutions to industry-specific obstacles; and to bring together regional business leaders to shape the AEC, a statement from the organisers said.

ABC council member Patrick Walujo said that despite ASEAN’s vast potential as a global trade and commercial centre, the private sector still remains a largely fragmented market due to member countries having various levels of development.

“The recent crisis, experienced by members of the eurozone, is a harsh reminder that the formation of economic blocs may carry unexpected pitfalls,” said Walujo, who is the forum chairman and managing director of Northstar Pacific Partners.

He also stressed the timeliness of the forum in enabling business leaders among them Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, AirAsia founder and chief executive officer Tony Fernandes, chief executive of Ayala Corporation Jaime Augusto Zobel De Ayala and president of Bangkok Bank Chartsiri Sophonpanich to discuss how to manage targets set out by the AEC agenda.

“It is for this reason that the formation of the AEC must be done carefully and in a collaborative manner involving representatives from all ASEAN members to ensure each party is fairly represented,” said Walujo.

Network ASEAN Forum convener and CIMB Group Chief Executive Nazir Razak said that there is “insufficient critical mass support” for the ASEAN economic integration, and although there has been improvement, more need to be done in these areas.

Razak said some of the countries within ASEAN represent a relatively small market and will be competing with China, India, the US and Europe.

ASEAN has to build scale in a “sustainable and inclusive manner”, he said.

This, he added, entails creating a collaborative regional bloc.

Walujo said that the outcome of the roundtable discussions will be reflected in policy recommendations which will be published and presented to the policy makers.

“With less than a fifth of ASEAN businesses having made any plans for AEC 2015, it is abundantly clear that anyone in a position to make policy must make awareness a key consideration,” said Walujo.

The forum will also feature plenary sessions on topics such as the challenges of ASEAN as a single market, driver for growth and investing in ASEAN’s future.
The Brunei Times