Significant progress has been made in ASEAN’s efforts to integrate its economies and to achieve the single ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) goal by 2015. At the recent 22nd ASEAN Summit held in Brunei from 24-25 April, it was revealed that more than three quarters of the AEC Blueprint measures have been implemented. These include integration into the global economy, establishing a competitive economic region and achieving equitable economic development.

The AEC goal aims to create a single market and production base for the region. With the establishment of this single market, it is envisaged that ASEAN will be a highly competitive economic region in which its population is able to enjoy a free flow of goods and services, as well as progressive competitiveness.

In an official ASEAN Summit statement presented by Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, it highlighted some of the region’s achievements in meeting its AEC goal. Since the adoption of the AEC Blueprint in November 2007, per capita income in the region has risen to US$3,759 in 2012 from US$2,267 in 2007. Total ASEAN trade has also grown by 16.8 per cent to US$2.4 trillion in 2011 from US$2.05 trillion in 2010 as intra-ASEAN trade reached US$598 billion from US$520 billion in the same period.

Nearly all import tariffs have also been reduced to zero through the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) with six of the region’s wealthier nations.

Held under the theme “Our People, Our Future Together”, discussions during the Summit emphasised on the need to further intensify the efforts in building a community that is “politically cohesive, economically integrated and socially responsible”.

The statement also indicated that the leaders “reaffirmed the need to forge a common ASEAN identity and build a caring and sharing society” and that “the long-term goal is a people-centred and socially-responsible ASEAN Community that achieves enduring solidarity and unity among all nations and people in Southeast Asia”.

However, despite the progress made, ASEAN leaders acknowledged that there are challenges to be faced in the last lap of achieving the targeted date of 31 December 2015. Among these include the varying levels of development between ASEAN members and protectionist measures implemented by nation states to shield their own domestic businesses.

Nonetheless, leaders remain optimistic and are encouraged to enhance private sector engagement at various levels in efforts to support the AEC integration initiatives.

FIA Executive Director, Bev Postma, agrees that engaging the private sector is important in helping the region achieve its single market goal by end-2015, and it is on this basis that the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) was launched with support from FIA.

“The establishment of AFBA represents the private sector’s commitment to collaborating with its public sector partners to achieve the region’s goal of economic integration. AFBA seeks to unlock the growth potential for intra- and extra-regional trade through the harmonisation of food standards and the delivery of tailor-made input on ASEAN policies.

“With this, we hope to help accelerate the region’s efforts on economic integration and meet its targets of creating a single ASEAN market by 2015,” she said.

For more information about AFBA’s priorities on hamronised food standards, please download the latest report .