ASEAN ready to form an EU-style union

. 3/2/09

Derided as a mere “talking shop,” the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Sunday took a major step toward becoming a European Union-style community with the signing of the Cha-Am Hua Hin Declaration on the Roadmap for An ASEAN Community (2009-2015) in this coastal town.

The declaration, which sets out the guidelines for the creation of a single free trade area by 2015 for the region, was signed by heads of state of the 10-member regional bloc at the conclusion of the 14th ASEAN Leaders Summit here.

“This ASEAN goal is made even more urgent by the global financial crisis. ASEAN needs to respond effectively to this financial crisis in order to retain its central position in the regional architecture. In this connection, we mandated all ASEAN organs to be guided by and to fully implement the ASEAN Charter,” the 12-page declaration said.

ASEAN’s goal is to unite all member-countries into an ASEAN community six years from now. The group consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma (Myanmar), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The group has a combined gross domestic product of $1.1 trillion and a population of about 570 million.

Some businessmen doubt the target will be achieved in six years.

Jose Concepcion, former chair of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC), described the target as “a little ambitious.”

“It would be difficult [to achieve],” said Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., honorary chair and treasurer of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“Even here in the ASEAN business community, we can’t agree among ourselves,” he said, referring to negotiations with other businessmen in the region.

Donald Dee, Philippine special envoy on trade negotiations, said: “It’s good sound bite.”

During the summit, some ASEAN trade officials had also expressed serious doubts that their countries would be able to comply with the tariff cuts required in the agreed tariff schedule due to the global economic crisis, which has adversely affected domestic enterprises.

The new charter sets out rules of membership, transforms the group into a legal entity and envisages an ASEAN Community by 2015. The workings of an ASEAN community would be similar to the European Community.

The charter came into force on Dec. 15, 2008, or 30 days after host-country Thailand deposited its ratification of the document at the Jakarta-based ASEAN Secretariat. Thailand was the last ASEAN member to ratify the document.

It was supposed to have been activated at a summit in Thailand in December but that meeting was postponed due to political tensions in the Thai capital.

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