Editorial: We Cannot Let Asean Be a Paradise Lost
During the past half century, the Association of South East Nations has been the bedrock of political and security stability in the region. From the original six members, the association has expanded to 10 with the inclusion of the four Indochinese countries.
With a combined population of 600 million people, a nominal GDP of $1.8 trillion and a growth rate that is expected to exceed 5 percent on average for 2012, Asean is now a major economic block and is the third pillar of growth in Asia after China and India.
As Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organization, noted at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok, the region is witnessing a great transformation and is at a crucial point in realizing its potential.
Asean has come far, but greater challenges lie ahead. The biggest challenge for the grouping is to better integrate its economies especially with the 2015 Asean Economic Community now looming large. The region will have to boost greater air and sea connections as well as harmonize its tax regimes if it is to boost greater intra-regional trade, tourism and capital flows.
It must improve its connectivity, both in terms of physical infrastructure as well as its soft infrastructure, if the region is to continue to grow. This includes laws and regulations that ensure free cross-border movements of people and goods while at the same time strengthening security and preventing illegal activities such as drug smuggling.
The heads of state meeting in Bangkok have reaffirmed their commitment to greater integration. Now they must prove that it not just mere talk. With Myanmar also starting on a path to reform, the region is poised to take off. It is critical that this opportunity not be lost.