Over 300 business executives from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathered at the ASEAN Business Club (ABC) Forum 2014 in Singapore on September 8-9 to tackle trade and industry issues and support the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in late 2015.

In his opening speech, Singaporean Minister of Trade and Technology Lim Hng Kiang stated that the integration is a turning point for ASEAN, and the bloc’s member states are continuously working towards the fast-approaching establishment of AEC, which will create a single market and production base by 2015.

Tariffs were lifted on almost all the region’s goods, Kiang said, adding that ASEAN was ready to take action to remove the region’s non-tariff barriers.

The minister also underlined the important role ASEAN businesses played in shaping the AEC thanks to their deep understanding of global value chains and the region’s trade barriers.

Talking to Vietnam News Agency correspondents, former ASEAN Deputy Secretary General Pushmanathan Sundram said the AEC would make ASEAN a more open community, requiring regional governments to increase their support for national enterprises, particularly small and medium-sized firms, to help them improve their competitiveness.

ABC, a public initiative, aims to provide a forum for the region’s business leaders to establish links and build partnerships. It also seeks to improve the ASEAN business community’s preparations for AEC.

Participants focussed their discussions on six key topics during the two-day forum, including laws and tariffs, the automobile industry and manufacturing, financial services and capital market, oil and gas exploitation, food and agriculture, and the retail market.

ASEAN comprises ten member states, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.-VNA