The 10 Asean countries are aspiring to build a single market and production base in a bid to build a highly competitive economic region.
North Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. Indonesia is eager to use its chairmanship of Asean this year to lay the foundation and set the direction for the proposed establishment of the Asean Economic Community by 2015.
I Gde Ngurah Sanjaya, Indonesia's representative in Asean, said the country was likely to determine the course of the preparation and the first seven years of the economic community.
"The year 2011 is the momentum [for Indonesia]. The minister [Marty Natalegawa] and the president [Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] want to use Indonesia's position as the chair not only to accelerate the establishment of the Asean economic community, but also to establish its direction."
The 10 Asean countries are aspiring to build a single market and production base in a bid to build a highly competitive economic region. Aside from Indonesia, Asean is also composed of the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.
Along with the Asean-China Fr ee Trade Agreement, which is to be fully implemented in 2015, the community is planning to create an economic region with estimated total annual trade of $1.23 trillion.
"We are only four years away from launching the Asean economic community. We are identifying the low-level fruits of developments we can attain by the end of 2011. There needs to be some progress with measurable results in preparation for 2015," said Marty, the foreign minister.
However, H.S. Dillon, an economist from the Center for Agricultural Policy Studies, said it was virtually impossible for Asean countries to overcome economic disparities in time for the launch of the AEC in just four years.
"Singapore's GDP is 32 times bigger than [Burma], Thailand has a 2 percent poverty rate while Cambodia has 25.84 percent. Economic integration has the tendency to benefit those with comparative advantages," he said.
"Indonesia must work extra hard to attain such comparative advantages, at least be on the same level as more developed economies. It is a daunting task for Indonesia as both people and officials have a low understanding of the community and a sense of urgency on its impact."
Meanwhile, the foreign ministers also discussed how to achieve "Asean connectivity," a framework adopted by the leaders of the group's member-states during the Asean Summit in Hanoi in October.
"There are 12 priority areas of connectivity discussed in the meeting, including Indonesia-Malaysia energy connectivity and the Asean highway project," Ngurah said.
The ambitious project is set for completion in 2015, ahead of the economic community's launch and would standardize major roads linking Asean countries in a bid to improve the free flow of goods and commodities. The roads will also link Asean states to China and India.
However, Ade Padmo Sarwono, director for Asean political and security cooperation, said issues had been threshed out more openly during the Senior Officials Meeting on Saturday.
The closed-door talks among officials at the director general level addressed policies on a more technical level.
The officials also identified the priority sectors in the member-countries for the launch of the AEC.
"There are several agreements and declarations that had not been followed-up or implemented fully by Asean countries. There are also several matters that needed to be re-addressed," Ade added.
Among the issues that entailed further discussion was the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which covers regional securities and freedom of navigation and flight.
"But some countries view this as a dispute resolution mechanism while others see it as a general guideline. There needs to be a united view on the declaration," Ade said.
Marty said that since the DOC was established in 2002, the working group has not been able to produce mechanisms and instruments for the implementation of the declaration.
"This year we hope talks would resume with the aim of turning the Declaration of Conduct into a Code of Conduct."
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Jakarta Globe Indonesia Pushing to Steer the Course In Asean Single Market Transformation17 January 2011