Nov 22 Southeast Asian nations on Sunday
established a formal community that attempts to create freer
movement of trade and capital in an area of 625 million people
with a combined economic output of $2.6 trillion.
The community declaration was signed by leaders of the 10-
member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Kuala
Lumpur, this year's host of the group's annual summit.
Twelve years in the making, the ASEAN community is a
landmark in the 48-year history of a group founded at the height
of the Cold War as an anti-communist bulwark.
The ASEAN Community includes a political, security and
socio-cultural dimension in a region with governments ranging
from communist in Vietnam and quasi-military in Myanmar to the
kingdom of Brunei and the boisterous democracy of the
But it is the economic community that offers the most
concrete opportunities for integration in a region whose
combined gross domestic product (GDP) would make it the world's
In practice, ASEAN has already virtually eliminated tariff
barriers among the 10 countries, said Malaysian Prime Minister
Najib Razak, the summit host, at the signing ceremony. "We now
have to ensure that we create a truly single market and
production base, with freer movement of goods and services."
At the closing news conference, however, he said ASEAN had
no specific deadline for achieving zero tariffs, but would aim
for "meaningful deliverables that can be done every year when we
meet at the ASEAN summit."
The combined GDP of the ASEAN economies is expected to grow
from US$2.6 trillion to US$4.7 trillion by 2020, Najib said, and
could become the world's fourth-largest economy as a bloc as
early as 2030.
The countries aim to harmonise economic strategies,
recognise each other's professional qualifications, and consult
more closely on macroeconomic and financial policies.
They have also agreed to enhance the connectivity of their
transportation infrastructure and communications, better
facilitate electronic transactions, integrate industries to
promote regional sourcing, and enhance private-sector
involvement in the economy.
Eight groups of professionals will be able to work more
easily throughout the region: engineers, architects, nurses,
doctors, dentists, accountants, surveyors and tourism
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia,
Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
(Created by Bill Tarrant)