ASEAN to contribute to stabilising world economy

ASEAN General Secretary Surin Pitsuwan granted an interview to Vietnam News Agency reporters on ASEAN’s development and the challenges on the way to building a common community in 2015 just after the first working day of the 16th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi on April 8.
ASEAN General Secretary Surin Pitsuwan granted an interview to Vietnam News Agency reporters on ASEAN’s development and the challenges on the way to building a common community in 2015 just after the first working day of the 16th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi on April 8.

Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: Could you talk about the results of the first working day of the 16th ASEAN Summit?

A: In the last two days, we have had a series of meetings, including the meetings of the ASEAN Community Council for Economic Community, the Socio-Cultural Community Council and the ASEAN Coordinating Council.

The latest is the plenary session of the summit of the leaders. The proceedings of the summit have gone very well. Everyone expressed appreciation to the PM of Vietnam for the leadership, for the hospitality, for the efficiency with which Vietnam, as a chair, has prepared for this Summit.

The theme of the Summit is ‘from vision to action’. Every member state welcomes that. Every member state believes that it is time for ASEAN to deliver on our commitments, on our agreements and on the projects and programmes in the master plan.

The ASEAN Economic Community Council acknowledged the quick recovery of the ASEAN economy. We believe that this year all the ASEAN economies will grow by about 4.5 – 5 percent. That is a very impressive figure compared to the 1.3 -1.4 percent growth across the region last year and if you compare that with the global growth rate, the developed countries are still suffering from a minus growth. The emerging economies are doing better, especially ASEAN and East Asia, which are helping drive global economic growth and pulling the global economy out of the economic crisis.

The ASEAN Economic Ministers are very much conscious of that and would like to make sure that our growth is sustained. We have noticed that we have made good progress in attracting investment into ASEAN compared to the year 2000 when we had only 23 billion USD. Thanks to economic integration making it one investment area, one market, in the year 2008 ASEAN attracted 60 billion USD.

The ASEAN economic ministers would like to see a large of portion of investment into ASEAN. Only and unless we can encourage our SMEs, our own ASEAN enterprises, to invest in each other’s economies, economic integration and one market or economic community will be very difficult to sustain.

Q: What are the challenges for ASEAN on the road to building a community?

A: We still have to make sure that our projects and programmes are fully implemented. If we want to achieve an economic community by the year 2015, we will have to implement all the measures that we have put out such as reducing tariffs, not putting up any non-tariff barriers, opening up more investment in each other’s economies, increasing the level of trade among us and mobilising resources right within ASEAN. ASEAN bonds should be issued and bought in order to invest in ASEAN rather than relying on outside sources. These are the areas that they have emphasised, to put all the projects and programmes into full implementation.

Q: Yesterday, the head of the Vietnamese economic community said that one of the biggest challenges to Vietnam as the chair of ASEAN is to harmonise the differences among the regional members. So, what do you think about that?

A: Yes, that’s it. That’s the problem that ASEAN has lived with for the last 43 years, that is the diversity we have to manage. But we accommodate each other, we help each other and we know that there is a gap between the new members and the old members and we are contributing into that. It is called Initiative for ASEAN Integration, and we are working with dialogue partners, with financial institutions—the ADB for example, the World Bank--in order to help our newer partners, and dialogue partners--for example China, Japan, Australia, the EU are working very closely with the ASEAN Secretariat in order to identify and contribute to making sure that human resources and infrastructure in the newer member countries and all the mechanisms, institutions necessary to integrate the newer markets into the older ASEAN markets are in place and effective. We are getting a lot of support, a lot of cooperation from our dialogue partners, including institutions like the World Bank.

Q: So, what do you think about the things that makes this new summit different than others?

A: What makes it different is the timing of it. Last year we were in the midst of a crisis. Although we were not impacted very heavily by the global downturn, this year we are experiencing growth. And it calls for closer coordination among the ASEAN member states, it calls for a more effective integration which we are pursuing and it is also the first year of the implementation of FTAs with major partners - India, China, Australia, New Zealand.

We are in the period of transformation and adjustment to these new opportunities. Many sectors have to adjust, have to be reformed in order to be competitive. I sense that all the ASEAN member states are adjusting very well. With commitment and with determination and with rationality they are not relinquishing responsibility and commitments they have made with countries like China , like India , like Australia . And at the same time we are hoping that the major dialogue partners and free trade partners, like China, Australia, India, would accommodate the countries of ASEAN. For example, to make sure that the FTAs are mutually beneficial, we have to look at the trade balance.

And tourism. We hope that there will be a major effort to make sure that there will be tourism sector cooperation between these major dialogue partners and FTA agreements. So these are the special moments for ASEAN, these are the special moments for East Asia in general. The world is expecting that East Asia will be able to contribute to the growth, the stability of the global economy and, I would say East Asia--ASEAN, in the middle--is responding with efficiency and with responsibility.

Q: How would you evaluate Vietnam’s role as ASEAN Chairman?

A: I think Vietnam is doing a splendid job. Everybody, as I told you, is very, very happy and satisfied with the preparations and with the way in which it is being conducted. Thank you to the government, the people of Vietnam for being such a splendid host to the ASEAN Summit./.

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