Tuesday, 24 November 2015

ASEAN Community officially formed by 10 member states in landmark declaration

ASEAN declares creation of integrated community
Road map to draw grouping of 10 nations closer over next decade also endorsed
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy Political Editor In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2015

ASEAN leaders yesterday put pen to paper to form an ASEAN Community to further lift the well-being of the grouping's 625 million people.

They also endorsed a road map to draw the grouping of 10 nations closer over the next decade.

The Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the Establishment of an ASEAN Community comes at a time when the global economy is weak and rising geopolitical rivalry threatens to affect the peace and stability that have enabled South-east Asia to prosper in recent decades.

The document is aimed at building "economies that are vibrant, competitive and highly integrated, and an inclusive community that is embedded with a strong sense of togetherness and common identity".

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the grouping has come a long way, but there will be work to be done after the ASEAN Community is established on Dec 31.

ASEAN has made progress not just in lowering barriers to trade and mobility, but also "in the thinking, the realisation that we do have to work together", he added.

He was speaking to Singapore reporters after two days of meetings among ASEAN leaders, as well as with their key partners. The ASEAN and East Asia summits came right after the Group of 20 summit in Antalya and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Manila, both of which he attended.

Tackling terrorism featured at all three meetings, as did the possibilities of economic development and improving livelihoods in a sluggish global economy, including through more integration.

While some in ASEAN may have more pressing issues, Mr Lee said regular meetings put pressure on officials to make progress.

He recalled how the upgrading of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area ran into some last-minute difficulty and its scheduled signing on Saturday had to be put on hold.

"But because we were all here and we were close to agreement, overnight, they worked away and the form of words was settled, and we were able to sign the agreement," Mr Lee said.

He noted that most of the commitments outlined in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) on freeing up trade have been met.

So Dec 31 will not see a sudden transition, but Singapore businesses can benefit by understanding what the AEC offers and how they can seize the opportunities to gain access to other markets, he said.

Analysts noted that the AEC is not just about trade but strategy too. Mr Lee said both China and the United States want to develop good relations with ASEAN, as do countries such as India.

On Saturday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged infrastructure loans totalling US$10 billion (S$14 billion) to ASEAN states to improve railway and production capacity and connectivity across the region.

Separately, US President Barack Obama invited all ASEAN leaders to the US next year and reiterated America's commitment to ASEAN and the region.

Asked for his observations about US-China dynamics at the summit, Mr Lee said while difficult issues like the South China Sea remain, ASEAN-China ties are growing in many areas like trade and tourism.

As coordinator for ASEAN-China relations for the next three years, Singapore hopes to improve ties and make progress on a Code of Conduct to manage tensions in the South China Sea. The South China Sea is one area where China and the US do not see eye to eye, and is an issue between them at ASEAN forums.

"But China and America have got a broad account too," Mr Lee said.

"This has to fit into that wider account and the two have to work it out in that broader context, as well as within the ASEAN backdrop."

Laos will take over from Malaysia as ASEAN chairman next year.

Heads of State and Government of the 10 ASEAN Member States at the signing ceremony of the 2015 Kuala Lumpur Declaration...
Posted by ASEAN on Sunday, November 22, 2015

ASEAN Summit: Forging shared ASEAN identity a top priority: PM Lee
By Lim Yan Liang, In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2015

The ASEAN Community is by no means the completion of the ASEAN story, as the grouping has its work cut out to continue on the path of integration.

On its part, Singapore hopes to be able to discuss - with its partners in the grouping - ways to strengthen the sense of ASEAN oneness and identity, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long said at the close of the 27th ASEAN Summit here.

The ASEAN Community - which takes effect on Dec 31 following a declaration that leaders signed yesterday morning - promises to turn the region into an economic powerhouse by eliminating remaining trade barriers to form a single market and production base.

Forging a shared ASEAN identity is one of the top priorities for the grouping, said PM Lee.

But indicating that there was still some way to go on this, he added: "One of the constraints on governments - and one of the reasons ASEAN finds it difficult to make progress together - is (that) there is not a very strong sense of ASEAN identity: it's really a Singaporean identity, a Malaysian or Indonesian identity. People don't think of themselves as being ASEAN, except when you have an ASEAN meeting and you have sing-songs together and you see what the ideal is. But to go from that ideal to a reality, I think there is some distance yet."

Fortunately, the growing volume of exchanges among young people across South-east Asia gives room for hope as this helps develop a consciousness in the younger generation. Younger people in Singapore, for instance, are undertaking projects and that will help.

The activities include expeditions to member countries and inviting young people from those countries to Singapore to interact.

PM Lee highlighted Singapore Polytechnic's ASEAN Outreach Thrust programme, which has brought more than 1,000 students from ASEAN member states to Singapore since 2012. The polytechnic received an award for its outreach efforts at this year's summit.

"As they rise in their societies, they will form a network and enable us to do more things together," PM Lee said of young people in ASEAN.

While he did not think a pure ASEAN identity is near - given the differences between countries - it was possible to develop "a stronger sense that we belong to ASEAN and ASEAN is important to us... That is something we should work towards. And decade by decade, I hope we'll be able to strengthen that sense".

In separate remarks, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that making everyone across ASEAN - from the fisherman to the farmer to the foreign exchange dealer - feel in his heart that he is not just a part of ASEAN but is ASEAN is not easy. "Too often, I'm afraid, ASEAN can seem remote."

But projects such as special lanes for ASEAN citizens at every international port, an ASEAN Business Travel Card and strengthening internship programmes are low-hanging fruits that members can focus on, he said. There are also long-term projects that will signal to the world that ASEAN is serious about creating a unified identity.

"We should act more as ASEAN within our region: We need to cooperate to find solutions to environmental problems such as the haze, natural disasters including floods and earthquakes, and crises of migration," said Datuk Seri Najib.

Declaring that all eyes are now on members to make sure tangible steps are taken to realise the ambitions set out in the ASEAN Community, he said: "We have now raised the bar and the expectations of our people. We are charged with meeting the aspirations of our younger generations, and of those to come."

ASEAN Community draws closer
Insight looks at the potential gains and challenges for Singapore from today's formal declaration forming the ASEAN Community.
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 22 Nov 2015

Today, ASEAN takes a big step closer to a historic milestone.

Leaders of its 10 member countries will sign a document to formally declare the formation of an ASEAN Community at the 27th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur.

Consisting of three communities, or pillars - economic, political-security and socio-cultural - the ASEAN Community will be launched on Dec 31. It is a monumental effort by every ASEAN member country to bring their nations closer through greater economic integration and social uplift, while ensuring the region remains secure and stable.
But this community is not just the culmination of a journey that began 48 years ago in Bangkok, when five foreign ministers put pen to paper to form ASEAN. It is the start of a new phase of regional integration that will weave all member countries closer together.

A single market of 625 million people. A collective gross domestic product of US$2.6 trillion (S$3.7 trillion) that makes it the seventh-largest economy in the world.

Fewer barriers to the flow of people, goods and capital.

These changes will place the region in a position to punch well above its weight, boosting investment and business opportunities for member countries, small and big businesses, and regional as well as foreign enterprises.

But amid the fanfare is the sobering recognition that the formation of the ASEAN Community comes at a time of rising geopolitical uncertainty and tension between superpowers. Threats abound, from territorial disputes to the spectre of terrorist attacks.There is also the development gap. The vast differences in capabilities between the 10 member countries are a challenge.

Will the ASEAN Community achieve its grand vision of unifying the region through shared prosperity? How much will resistance from members, domestic tensions and the competing influence of China and the United States hinder its plans?

Insight looks at what the ASEAN Community entails, what has been achieved thus far, and how Singapore and its close neighbours are set to change.

Why the AEC matters


Single market and production base. With a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$2.6 trillion (S$3.7 trillion) last year, ASEAN has the third-largest GDP in Asia, after China and Japan. ASEAN will form the world's seventh-largest economy. If growth trends continue, ASEAN could become the world's fourth-largest single market by 2030, after the European Union, the United States and China.


Annual growth for the whole of ASEAN. It is projected to average 5.4 per cent from last year to 2018. For the EU, it is around 2 per cent.


Groups of professionals to benefit. Engineers, tourism professionals, dentists, architects, surveyors, accountants, nurses and doctors will enjoy easier access to regional talent. The International Labour Organisation said demand for high-skilled workers will increase, but warned that inequality could worsen.


Member countries. They are Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. The chair nation rotates every year; this year it is Malaysia.


The percentage of Singapore's direct investment abroad in 2012 in ASEAN - the Republic's top investment destination. Singapore is the No. 1 investor in Myanmar, and Thailand's No. 2. Foreign revenue generated by the top 1,000 companies here by revenue rose from $149.9 billion in 2011 to $223.9 billion last year.


Years of age. Half of ASEAN's population was below 28.8 years of age last year, compared to 40.8 in China and 42.1 in the EU.


People. World's third- largest labour force after China and India. ASEAN's population is expected to hit 670 million by 2020, up from 625 million now. Number of middle-class households will more than double to 80 million in three years.

Economics of ASEAN Community
The ASEAN Community may get today's headlines, but one of its three pillars, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), is probably more familiar to most people. The other pillars are the political-security and socio-cultural communities. That is because economic cooperation is a key focus for ASEAN members to improve the lot of their citizens. Insight looks at what the AEC entails.
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 22 Nov 2015

Ten years ago, leaders of the 10 countries in ASEAN gathered in Kuala Lumpur for a summit to take stock of their efforts at economic integration.

Just two years earlier, in 2003, they had committed to declaring a region-wide economic community by 2020.

But, heartened by the progress they had made, they agreed to bring forward the deadline for a region-wide economic community by a full five years.

Today, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) - due to come into formal effect next month - is close to becoming a reality for the 625 million people of the region.

This number is larger than the populations of North America or the European Union. It also makes ASEAN the world's seventh-largest economy.

Clearly, the AEC is an extremely attractive common market and regional production base.

As barriers to the free movement of goods, services and capital gradually diminish, businesses, citizens and would-be investors - within ASEAN or outside - can consider South-east Asia as a whole when deciding where to invest or open a production facility.

To help this process, ASEAN members have agreed to cooperate more closely on a range of areas.

These aim to harmonise economic strategies in areas such as human resource development, recognition of professional qualifications, and closer consultation on macroeconomic and financial policies.

They have also agreed to enhance connectivity of infrastructure as well as communications, develop and facilitate electronic transactions, integrate industries across various countries to promote regional sourcing, and enhance private-sector involvement in the economy.

In short, the AEC will transform the ASEAN economy into a region with free movement of goods, services, investment and skilled labour, and freer flow of capital.

Eight groups of professions will enjoy easier access to regional talent, and professionals in these fields will be able to work in another country more freely. These are: engineers, architects, nurses, doctors, dentists, accountants, surveyors and tourism professionals.

As for investment potential, each member state has attractive characteristics for investors. Some have substantial young populations, while others have abundant natural resources and low-cost labour.

The declaration of the AEC - on schedule - is also timely.

China, the world's No. 2 economy, has seen a sharp slowdown, making investors and businesses here look for other markets to enter.

China is Singapore's largest market for non-oil domestic exports, accounting for 15 per cent last year.

Speaking at the 12th China-ASEAN Expo in September, then Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan pointed out that Singapore needed to stay nimble and take advantage of faster-growing markets, such as ASEAN, in the light of China's slowdown.

"A stable, growing and prosperous ASEAN is very important for our economy. In the end, we must have the ability to adjust and take advantage of markets that are growing faster," he said.

Leaders also hope that stitching the 10 member states together economically through the AEC will enhance regional cooperation in other fields, and help ensure that ASEAN remains relevant as big powers come courting.

Unwilling to directly confront one another over contentious issues, such as the South China Sea territorial claims, the United States and China are likely to step up bilateral engagement with ASEAN members to push their respective agendas, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies researcher Angela Poh noted.

Analysts added that sharing a common economic platform, together with a growing range of shared interests in security and social cooperation, will hopefully underscore the importance of unity across ASEAN.

What is in it for Singapore?
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 22 Nov 2015

Under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), a Singapore-based manufacturer relying on raw materials from, say, Indonesia or Vietnam, would benefit from more affordable goods as tariffs come down.

He would also find it easier to export his goods, and at lower cost too, with lower tariffs and simplified Customs procedures. Meanwhile, service providers should gain easier access to ASEAN countries as barriers to markets are lifted.

These are among the benefits for Singapore firms and businesses, highlighted by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) in its recently published guide to the AEC.

Not only traders and service companies stand to gain. Investors could also benefit through more transparent regulations and eased restrictions on foreign ownership.

Skilled workers in certain sectors can find more job opportunities in the region.

The consumer is set to gain too, with a wider choice of goods and services that are cheaper.

But there are challenges ahead, says Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises. For one thing, local businesses and workers have to be more competitive.

Fortunately, Singapore has a reputation for quality and good service, and local brands, such as shoe retailer Charles & Keith and electronics firm Flextronics have shown that firms can succeed abroad.

But Mr Wee says local businesses should have branched into the region "since yesterday", to be large enough to compete with players serving larger home bases such as Indonesia and Thailand. "We may be better in quality, in brand, in service, but in business, size and weight matter," he adds.

"If our SMEs don't fight for a slice of the overseas domestic markets, you can run into a situation where, in the next few years, you'll find overseas counterparts have come in and swallowed up your market and our SME people can become just business managers."

SMEs are a major player in ASEAN. They account for more than 96 per cent of all enterprises and 50 to 85 per cent of employment in member states.

MTI noted that, with continued liberalisation of investment in ASEAN, Singapore companies will gain from more opportunities to take part in sectors previously restricted in some countries.

Local healthcare providers, for example, can have the assurance that they can fully own investments in medical and dental services in Vietnam. In Indonesia, when the next round of services liberalisation enters into force, consultancy services providers in engineering can also enjoy full ownership of their investments.

Singapore might also attract global multinationals or regional conglomerates to site offices or sign contracts here, creating opportunities for local legal and accountancy firms.

But the converse is also true. Foreign professionals can be expected to continue competing for local jobs, as jobs here pay better.

There is, however, cause for cheer. As Mr Wee sees it, there is regional demand for Singaporean professionals, who have a reputation for being trustworthy and dependable.

He advises those who want to give the regional job market a try to start by picking up regional knowledge about their industries, language skills, and an understanding of foreign business cultures and not just industry-specific skills.

"Mobility cannot be just about your job in Singapore: It has to be about your job within the region," he adds. "You have to bring your professional abilities to new levels, to bring that value-add and compete, whether it's in Singapore or abroad."

What remains to be done?
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 22 Nov 2015

With a youthful population where less than 15 per cent are aged 55 and above, most ASEAN countries are about to reap demographic dividends of a workforce that is dynamic and expanding, while the number of dependent youth and elderly persons is small.

This translates into the coming- of-age of millions of people with greater spending power than ever.

Some may wonder why the region had not seen more spectacular growth over the decades. The reason is the significant diversity between member states, a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit last year noted.

The per capita gross domestic product of the richest member is 76 times larger than the poorest's, while the population of the largest country is 600 times bigger than its smallest's. Political, economic and legal structures also vary widely between member states, leading to uncertainties and inconsistencies that hamper businesses wanting to expand within the region.

Protectionist sentiment in some member countries, where powerful local industries are reluctant to open up to competition, is also a problem, said the report.

All this points to an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) that still has its work cut out for it: while tariffs on goods traded within ASEAN are already virtually zero, non-tariff barriers, such as local ownership rules, inefficient Customs procedures and differing product standards, remain a challenge.

And, while on paper eight groups of professions will enjoy easier access to regional talent through mutual recognition agreements, local barriers and regulation mean that there will be no overnight changes.

Thailand, for example, recognises the qualifications of foreign doctors, but they will still need to obtain a licence by taking examinations in Thai. Out of 50,000 fully licensed doctors, only 200 are foreign nationals. The last who qualified did so in 2010.

Equity limitations and other local laws also mean that a Singaporean food and beverage operator trying to enter the Philippine market must find a local joint venture partner and employ a Filipino in-house accountant, noted Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee.

ASEAN Business Advisory Council chairman Munir Majid acknowledged that free movement of labour will remain a work-in- progress. He told the ASEAN Studies Centre's October edition of its ASEAN Focus newsletter: "There must be greater domestic enabling measures and better understanding that the skill pool is global."

Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang also identified three areas of concern earlier this year.

One, there are still too many non-tariff barriers, such as Customs processes, documentation requirements and a complex regulatory environment within ASEAN, all of which detract from a transparent and predictable business environment.

Two, there remain significant barriers to services trade within ASEAN, although these are more complex and require coordinating with many parties, which takes time.

However, he said: "In today's competitive environment, ASEAN must enable foreign services providers to compete on the same footing as local companies. In this way, we will be able to strengthen investor confidence and attract more high-value investments into our region."

Three, the ratification of the ASEAN Open Skies agreements for airlines in the region is still outstanding, an issue some are following closely as a gauge of commitment to AEC goals.

FAQs on the AEC
By Jacqueline Woo, The Sunday Times, 22 Nov 2015

Q How will the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) change the global landscape?

A By transforming ASEAN into a single market and production base, the AEC will boost the competitiveness and connectivity of the region as a whole. And it could lift aggregate output by 7 per cent by 2025.

Ideally, the AEC will help less developed economies link up with more developed ones, bringing about more equitable economic development across the region. ASEAN, as a whole, will be better integrated into the global economy.

ASEAN as a single economy is forecast to become the fourth-largest economy in the world by 2030, behind only the European Union, the United States and China.

Q What does it mean for businesses?

A The AEC, as a single market comprising more than 625 million people, has sparked keen interest among foreign investors.

Besides getting to enjoy lower trade barriers and higher trade flows, businesses can access larger markets and enjoy the same incentives, regardless of which ASEAN country they operate in.

With tariff and non-tariff barriers eliminated, those looking for opportunities within the region will be able to expand more easily, while tapping the integrated production base.

Small and medium-sized enterprises will be better placed to expand regionally and then globally.

Q What does it mean for individuals?

A The AEC could generate around 14 million new jobs by 2025. While this means more opportunities, it also means that competition will increase.

On the other hand, the increased opportunities are exciting. Market watchers, such as real estate services firm CBRE, have said that the AEC could ramp up the demand and supply of industrial and office space in most ASEAN markets, as more SMEs and multinational corporations set up shop in the region.

This, in turn, may boost household disposable income as demand for blue- and white-collar workers grows, and the pace of urbanisation picks up.

A more affluent middle class will also drive the consumption of goods and services, which benefits the economy.

Q What is the status of progress on the AEC so far?

A While the AEC has made headway in certain areas, government officials and market watchers say there are still challenges ahead for it to become fully integrated.

Tariffs on exports of ASEAN-originating products between member states have already been removed, but businesses investing across borders continue to face non-tariff issues such as convoluted licensing and land acquisition requirements.

There are also significant barriers to the flow of services, with companies facing various foreign equity restrictions in all ASEAN countries.

Service trade policies in ASEAN are more restrictive than in any other region in the world except the Persian Gulf, according to a World Bank report in April.

Labour mobility for skilled workers is another issue.

Between 2005 and 2012, ASEAN countries signed mutual recognition arrangements (MRAs) in six sectors - engineering, nursing, architecture, medicine, dentistry and tourism - as well as framework arrangements on MRAs in surveying and accounting to help facilitate cross-border labour mobility. These agreements allow each member country to recognise education and experience, licences and certificates granted in another country.

But implementation has been slow because, in practice, existing national legislation and regulations run counter to regional commitments.

Keeping ASEAN on an even keel
The ASEAN Community comprises not just an economic pillar, but also a political-security community and socio-cultural community. What does this mean for the more than 600 million residents of the 10 ASEAN member countries?
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 22 Nov 2015

When the five foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand came together to will ASEAN into existence on Aug 8, 1967, squabbles between the young South-east Asian countries were a fresh memory.

Ties between Malaysia and the Philippines were strained by territorial disputes over Sabah, while Indonesia had just wound down its violent campaign of Confrontation against Malaysia and Singapore.

Nationalism was on the rise, and the idea of a collective South-east Asian identity seemed a hopeless ideal. But ASEAN surprised the doubters, and overcame internal antagonisms to enjoy more than four decades of solidarity.

However, in recent years territorial disputes - this time involving China, over the South China Sea - have consumed much of the grouping's attention.

Such are the challenges faced by the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC), two of the three pillars of the ASEAN Community. The other, of course, is the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).


The APSC deals with transnational security issues such as crime, defence and law, and is the mechanism under which the foreign, law and defence ministers of each country meet regularly.

Until the South China Sea tensions ruffled ASEAN's fabric, solidarity among member states has served the region well: there have been no wars or brinkmanship among members since its formation, allowing economic activity to flourish, notes Dr Termsak Chalermpalanupap, a visiting research fellow at Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

"We all grow up taking it for granted that we have no war in our region, but it requires a lot of effort among government leaders, among senior officials in ASEAN governments, to work together to maintain peace and security," he says, adding that the region is a nuclear-free zone because members have collectively willed it.

The bloc's reputation for being neutral, constructive and non-ideological has also given it what Dr Termsak calls "convening power": the influence and ability to attract dialogue partners even from far afield.

"When ASEAN calls for a meeting, many countries outside our region come and join us, they all want to work with us," he says.

"Even North Korea is interested in ASEAN: this is the only place outside of the United Nations system that (it) has anything to do with other countries in a peaceful way."

But the South China Sea disputes and a willingness by China and the US to assert their influence over individual ASEAN members threaten to undo ASEAN's solidarity.

China's "One Belt, One Road" developmental initiative, launching of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and launching a forum to rival the Singapore-based Shangri-La Dialogue all point to a multi-pronged approach to rebalance the US-dominant world order, says S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies senior fellow Yang Razali Kassim.

"While moves such as 'One Belt, One Road' and the AIIB have won it new support, China has succeeded in equal measure to antagonise and generate distrust in the region because of its unsettling and divisive impact, especially on ASEAN," he said in a recent article.

"There is growing uncertainty over the ultimate motive of China's push to revive the Silk Road in South-east Asia: whether it is really to cooperate for mutual gain, or to undermine established relationships in the region."

Member states have their work cut out if they wish to maintain ASEAN centrality, or the principle that the grouping should be in control of key decisions affecting the region.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong alluded to the challenges ASEAN faces in this area at the close of last year's summit in Myanmar.

"Centrality is not something which you can declare and claim. It's something which you have to earn from your relevance, from your effectiveness, from your cohesiveness," said Mr Lee.

"The more ASEAN can play that role, the more other countries find us useful, the more we can say that ASEAN centrality is a reality."


Broadly speaking, the ASCC deals with issues that directly affect the populations of member countries that are not purely economic in nature, such as in education, youth, health, disaster management and poverty eradication.

"When you say socio-cultural, the first thing that comes to mind is something to do with song and dance," says Ms Moe Thuzar, a lead researcher at the ASEAN Studies Centre of the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute. "But it's not about song and dance: it's really about responding to the effects of what happens in the political areas, or what happens due to economic integration."

The ASCC is also the part of ASEAN that works towards closing developmental gaps between most and least advanced members.

Launched in 2000, the Initiative for ASEAN Integration is a working group of representatives of all members who have the task of closing developmental gaps between ASEAN countries and accelerating the economic growth of new members such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

It is also how countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand share their expertise and technical know-how with newer members, says Ms Thuzar.

But while the ASCC has seen some successes - creating mechanisms that bring ministers and officials together to work on topics such as women and children's issues and disaster management and emergency response - much still hinges on each country's implementation.

The haze that recently blanketed the region because of hot spots in Sumatra and Kalimantan demonstrates this, says Ms Thuzar. "We are seeing the effects of weak national implementation in the haze that has spread across borders."


Amid emerging tensions in ASEAN's geopolitical space, one aspect of the AEC is a practical incentive for members to stick together - by growing incomes and overall prosperity through forging relationships across countries.

"The idea for the AEC was born partly from recognition that deeper integration would support economic growth," says the Economist Intelligence Unit in a special report on ASEAN.

"Equally, it was forged against the rise of China and India: national leaders in South-east Asia hoped that, by joining together, ASEAN could become a formidable third economic engine in emerging Asia."

Members are near the finish line in negotiating a final agreement on the liberalisation of the service sector and have committed to implementing the ASEAN open skies agreements, which will open up competition in the regional air travel market.

Technologies based around the mobile Internet - such as the growth of e-commerce from one of the most smartphone-saturated areas of the world - will potentially account for between US$220 billion (S$310 billion) and US$625 billion in the region by 2030, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report.

This means members are likely to push harder for a South-east Asia-wide free mobile roaming zone that will eliminate mobile phone roaming fees within ASEAN.

First mooted in 2012 by Indonesia's then Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring, the idea may see greater impetus now that the European Union announced last month it will eliminate mobile roaming charges within the EU.

In a sign of greater momentum in this area, an agreement between Brunei and Singapore to reduce roaming rates for travellers between the two countries came into effect this year. This adds to a similar agreement that Singapore signed with Malaysia in 2011.

To get an idea of the significance for the region of free roaming, consider this: If ASEAN were a country, while only one of every 10 people would own a telephone line or be an Internet subscriber, there would be more than one mobile phone per person, many with data connections.

These statistics on phone users were presented last month at a community forum, titled "Impact of ASEAN Integration", organised by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing and Buona Vista Community Club. They are just one of several sets of statistics given that night to explain the importance of the grouping.

Indeed, free roaming is just one of the bright spots that ASEAN's young, mobile phone-loving populace can look forward to under its three-pillared community.

Tomorrow, we will form the ASEAN Community. It’s a significant milestone in ASEAN’s history. Since its inception, ASEAN...
Posted by Vivian Balakrishnan on Wednesday, December 30, 2015

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Posted by ASEAN on Wednesday, December 30, 2015

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