With the 13th ASEAN Summit in Singapore starting today, many ASEANs are or will be asking what will be the benefits for them of this “Integration” we all been hearing this year. Then followed-up by questions about the ASEAN Constitution (ASEAN Charter) and the ASEAN Economic Blueprint.
According to Prime Minister Lee of Singapore,
Closer economic integration will benefit the people of ASEAN in many ways. They will enjoy cheaper and more easily accessible products. More jobs will be created as the region attracts new investments. Incomes and standards of living will rise as the region develops and grows.
With wider recognition of qualifications, those with the necessary skills will have more opportunity to work in other countries. In addition, it will be easier to travel in the region at more competitive fares and without visa restrictions.
The Economic Blueprint will also benefit not just the big companies but the Small and Medium Entreprises or SMEs. Who have the most worries and why there are many ASEANs in all the 10 member countries who are against the idea.
The Asian Development Bank or ADB is in full suppport of the ASEAN Economic Blueprint. They said that due to the paradigm shifts in global trade, it is even more vital now for ASEAN to integrate its economies. That a better integrated ASEAN will better handle possible financial turmoil such as the financial crisis in 1997.
“If one country is affected by financial turmoil, (it) could spread easily among surrounding countries. So here, there’s a need to further strengthen financial cooperation and economic cooperation within ASEAN in order to reduce this negative possibility,” said ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda.
But an ASEAN single currency is something many ASEANs, including Business always see when we talk about the integration of the ASEAN Economies into one. On that matter, (and I agree), some business leaders see it unlikely to happen or even discussed within the 2015 timeframe. As Citigroup’s head of ASEAN markets and banking Piyush Gupta said, “For any country, in the ASEAN context, to give up National Sovereignty over monetary policy or fiscal policy is frankly not reasonable and highly impractical over the next seven, eight, or perhaps 15 years.”
It is true, Asians are very Nationalistic, and all of the ASEAN members have a long history of struggles to become independent from the Western colonizers, dictators, regimes, and wars. We all haven’t enjoyed much of our Sovereignty, of our Independence, of our Identity. Much like how the English doesn’t want to give up their Pounds in favor of Euro, it is the same with each member of the ASEAN. (Although in the case of the Philippines, there has been talks of changing the Philippine Peso to Philippine Dollar – we might as well start talking about changing to “Asyan” [what I call the future ASEAN single currency].)
The ASEAN Constitution on the other hand, if signed this week, will come into full effect by late-2008 at the next annual summit in Bangkok. It will change ASEAN into an “ad-hoc” association into a “rules-based” (legal) entity.
The question is, “What’s the difference?” Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo, “What we are doing now is re-setting our directions by a few degrees. Step by step, five years’ time, 10 years’ time, 20 years’ time, it will be a different end point for ASEAN.” But, whatever rules we devise for ourselves, for the most difficult political issues, it is leadership that matters.” (So to my fellow Filipinos, VOTE by QUALIFICATION NOT by POPULARITY.)
As Professor Koh said the Charter serves the interest of all 10 ASEAN members. It is now time to make it concrete, not just on paper and words, but a reality.
ASEAN can look forward with confidence, optimism (Channel NewsAsia)
Asian Development Bank says it supports ASEAN Economic Integration (Channel NewsAsia)
Key aim of ASEAN Summit is to deepen integration: PM Lee (Channel NewsAsia)
ASEAN Charter could take effect by next summit in 2008: Tommy Koh (Channel NewsAsia)