ASEAN: Going strong at 47

A group being together for close to 50 years can only grow stronger over time. We look forward to strong ASEAN cooperation and economic integration based on shared values and mutual beneficial interest among the member nations. And hopefully develop a distinct Asian approach to doing things the ASEAN way.

 

From BusinessWorld Philippines

August 07, 2014

Happy birthday, ASEAN!

PEOPLE CELEBRATE birthdays by reminding themselves of the good things that have happened in their lives. So should institutions.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is indeed fortunate that since Aug. 8, 1967, it has outgrown the birth pains of political uncertainties, survived the economic difficulties of a restructuring world, and is heading towards a more conscious social order for the peace, prosperity and welfare of its diverse peoples.

It is in the economic realm that ASEAN has much to celebrate about. The big-picture story is that after the 2008 global financial crisis, Southeast Asia remains very dynamic compared to the developed countries. As the seventh largest in the global economy today, it is projected to be the fourth by mid-21st century.

In the knowledge era, as the second largest Facebook-using region in the world today, it has much potential in transforming social media into productive forces even among the poorer communities.

Of course, it is far from being a single market and production base where all goods and services can move freely within the 10 member states — after all, it took longer for other groups to achieve the same outside political unions. But some skilled workers can now move more easily and ASEAN-qualified banks are being discussed in capitals today.

The member states can increase trade more effectively with each other as tariff rates have been reduced to zero; their openness to former colonial export-import partners is a reason why ASEAN’s intra-regional trade is around half of USA-Canada-Mexico trading within NAFTA, and European Union’s own. As a major contributor to the world’s supply chain in many industries, however, it has room for more indigenous globally branded products and companies.

The region is still a major agricultural powerhouse, serving markets far and near (especially the Dialogue Partners Australia, Canada, China, EU, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Pakistan, Russia, USA). While touted as the Detroit of the region with its automotive industry prowess, Thailand is keeping to its promise of being the world’s kitchen: it is the number one world producer of pineapple, rubber, shrimp, processed chicken and canned tuna. Myanmar is the largest global producer of sesame seeds and sugar crops, while Vietnam is the world leader in production of cashew nuts and pepper commodities, the Philippines in abaca, and Indonesia in coconuts.

Even small countries like Lao PDR rank eighth largest in ramie production, and Cambodia 21st in fiber crops and 25th in cassava. Malaysia is the sixth largest producer of palm kernels and seventh in natural rubber. Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar remain as major rice exporters in a region that houses the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) which helped both India and China with their famine situations as local scientists developed their local varieties from the science and technology of IRRI.

Blessed with natural resources, ASEAN is also home to vast fields that make it a major liquefied natural gas producer and exporter — Malaysia is the world’s No. 2, while Brunei, rated as fifth richest economy in the world by Forbes magazine, is ninth in LNG. Indonesia has the world’s largest geothermal reserves, and the Philippines is among the key players in this energy area. The Coral Triangle, an area embracing the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and other neighboring countries, is a vast fisheries and marine resource base for the world; the Verde Island Passage between Batangas and Mindoro provinces in the Philippines has been discovered to be the center of global marine biodiversity, a boon to the pharmaceutical industry.

Even more blessed with resilient people that survive challenges of their own kind and mother nature, ASEAN member states look at market forces to nurture sunrise industries.

The Philippines is among the top outsourcing destination of the world, thanks to its much touted English versatility and less noticed trainability that give it number one exporter status in seafaring and nursing. Singapore, the second most competitive nation in the planet, is focusing on biotechnology, among others to support its 21st century vision; Malaysia and Thailand are also quite engaged in research and development networks in the health field, as the Philippines attempts to advance those in neglected tropical diseases through ASEAN, and fears that the next pandemic will originate from this part of the mobile world.

Tourism professionals are being trained around the region to keep up with a key driver in many local economies, e.g., eco-tourism in Lao PDR. Cross-border education is growing although not to the extent that ERASMUS impacts in Europe.

ASEAN has no peacekeeping force and no concrete mechanism for enforcing human rights, but it has kept the peace in the region. Global attention on regional conflicts is more directed at other places today. The ASEAN Secretariat is thankfully around a 10th of that of the European Commission; it is being reinvented to give more attention to the private sector whose partnerships with governments is making possible new sources of dynamism.

A post-2015 scenario is being discussed in many countries in ASEAN today as crafted by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and Northeast Asia (ERIA). As the Philippines anticipates the 50th celebration of ASEAN when it hosts the Summit in 2017, we should raise our glasses to wish it well and the region an even better future.

Prof. Federico M. Macaranas is ASEAN 2015 Project Leader, Asian Institute of Management

Article location : http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Opinion&title=Happy birthday, ASEAN!&id=92361

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