ASEAN business and political leaders reiterated the importance of greater connectivity and regulatory harmonisation in unleashing the region’s economic growth potential at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia 2013 held from 5-7 June in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar.

Under the forum’s key theme of ‘Realising Regional Integration’, leaders stressed that increased connectivity in the region can further enhance ASEAN’s growth.

ASEAN countries currently contribute a combined GDP of US$2 trillion to the global economy, and according to WEF , this figure is set to double by 2020.

The leaders outlined how the region’s blueprint for an integrated free trade market by 2015 – the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) – is key in facilitating the free flow of goods and services. In working towards developing the AEC, ASEAN countries are seeking to harmonise regulations, streamline customs processes, remove tariffs and trade barriers, and boost the competitiveness of the supply chains.

Customs tariffs for 90 per cent of goods and services traded in the region have already reduced to zero, ahead of the 2015 goal.

The Philippines’ Secretary of Finance, Cesar V Purisima told participants: “There is no room for regulatory nationalism in ASEAN. Individually, ASEAN countries are small, but we are stronger together. We need to complement rather than compete against each other.

“The future is bright if we do things right. Greater connectivity in regulation, infrastructure and among people will boost productivity,” he added.

FIA President, Umran Beba participated in one of the key sessions at the WEF East Asia 2013, where she led discussions on “leveraging regional leadership for food and nutrition security”.

Commenting on the role of the food industry as a crucial part of this equation, she said: “Increased connectivity and harmonised standards across the region can support the free flow of food and beverages throughout the region, ensuring a high quality, stable food supply. While there have been some good developments towards economic integration in some sectors, there is a lot more that can be done to accelerate the harmonisation process in the agri-food sectors.

“The newly launched ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) , made up of national industry associations across the region, represents the food industry’s commitment to working with the public sector towards achieving the AEC goal by 2015. Together, we will establish a harmonised set of industry goals and priorities for the region, which will in turn help unleash ASEAN’s growth potential in the intra- and extra-regional trade of food products.”