Market integration across the region will continue beyond the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) next year, according to the region’s Economic Ministers, in order to further expand and enhance ASEAN’s role in the global economy.

In a joint statement following the 20th ASEAN Economic Ministers Retreat in Singapore late last month, the ministers highlighted that 2015 is “not an end-date to conclude the initiatives of realising the AEC” but that integration is an ongoing process that will extend beyond the 2015 deadline. Post-2015 offers opportunities to deepen economic integration and maintain the region’s growth and resilience, the statement noted.

At the meeting, the ministers supported the High Level Task Force on ASEAN Economic Integration (HLTF-EI)’s decision to establish a Working Group which will look into developing a draft framework to further enhance ASEAN economic integration after 2015.

Former Deputy-Secretary General of ASEAN and Principal Advisor of the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA), Mr Pushpanathan Sundram, said that true integration is complex and will take time, beyond the 2015 deadline.

“ASEAN has made considerable progress towards economic integration. The implementation rate of the AEC Blueprint stands at 79.7% of the AEC Scorecard as of August 2013, with current efforts to already helping to increase intra-ASEAN trade and encourage a greater inflow of foreign direct investments (FDIs) to the region.

“However a truly regional economy will continue well beyond the AEC Blueprint and the current priorities for integration over the next eighteen months. Regional integration is a journey that the region is embarking upon and it is good to see policy makers already preparing for the next phase of its development,” he said.

The opportunities post-2015 for further economic development are highlighted in the inaugural “ASEAN Integration Monitoring Report ” – jointly produced by the ASEAN Integration Monitoring Office of the ASEAN Secretariat, together with the World Bank – East Asia Pacific Region.

The report suggests that beyond 2015, ASEAN should continue to be a “facilitator of better integration of its members’ economies into the global trading system and pursue an open regionalism agenda”.

In particular, the report notes the significance of looking into “streamlining rather than eliminating” non-tariff measures to make them “more targeted, simple, and effective, while minimizing any trade-restricting impact”. To ensure that the goal of free trade in the region is sustained, the report said there is an opportunity to broaden the trade facilitation agenda and include other essential elements such as the implementation of product standards and phytosanitary measures that do not impede trade.

The study “ASEAN Rising: Moving ASEAN and AEC Forward Beyond 2015 " conducted by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) also highlighted proposals for ASEAN post-2015, based on four key pillars: An Integrated and Highly Contestable ASEAN; Competitive and Dynamic ASEAN; Inclusive and Resilient ASEAN; and Global ASEAN.

Acknowledging that the AEC is a major regional milestone as an integration effort, the study outlines the need for effective monitoring and transparency mechanisms in a bid to address and streamline non-tariffs measures following the establishment of the AEC.

There are also opportunities for the region to deepen liberalisation commitments at a higher level through agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) after the realisation of the AEC in 2015, suggests the report. More broadly, the study highlights the importance of having a clear framework for private sector engagement for the region to move forward post-2015.

“Facilitating greater engagement with the private sector and enhancing multi-sectoral cooperation is crucial in helping the region sustain its economic development and growth after the establishment of the AEC.

AFBA recognises the importance of this and has made it a priority to work alongside the public sector and other key stakeholders to harmonise food standards in the region, phase out technical barriers to trade and create an environment that promotes intra-and-extra regional trade.

“We all have a role to play in reaching the AEC’s 2015 priorities, but also to support the region beyond the deadline to realise its full potential,” Mr Sundram said.

For more information, please visit the AFBA website.

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