The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is approaching its goal of establishing a stronger and more active framework, named the ASEAN Community, by 2015. The formation of community will bring the bloc even closer together and improve the lives of people across the region, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh has stressed in an interview granted to the press and the Vietnam News Agency.

The Foreign Minister confirmed ASEAN leaders have chosen December 31, 2015 as the day to officially launch the ASEAN Community.

The Community is to be based on three key pillars: a Political-Security Community (APSC), an Economic Community ( AEC ) and a Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC).

APSC will act for the common benefit of all members, shaping values to ensure a peaceful, secure and stable environment in the region while responding to other non-traditional security challenges, FM Minh said.

However, he stated that ASEAN does not plan on forming any military alliance or common defensive bloc.

As an economic community, ASEAN will strive to build a single market and transform ASEAN into a region with free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labour and a freer flow of capital, supporting all members so that they will develop evenly, he said.

At the same time, ASEAN will not follow the model of a trans-national organisation like the European Community (EC), and will not adopt a common currency, he revealed.
ASCC seeks to facilitate connectivity and balanced development among member countries while still preserving the cultural diversity of the bloc. It aims to build a caring and sharing society where the living standards, well-being, and welfare of people are enhanced.
Discussing the benefits that the ASEAN Community will bring, FM Minh stressed that a 600 million-strong market will be opened up for businesses of member countries in general and Vietnamese businesses in particular, with equal opportunities for all.

He said the Community will offer chances for businesses to expand trade cooperation and attract investment thanks to the advantages of an open market.

Tariff and non-tariff barriers will be removed, helping businesses promote their export and reduce their import cost, thus reducing product prices, he said.

The diplomat said after December 2015, most of imported products inside ASEAN will enjoy zero percent of tax.

Through free trade agreements plus one (FTA+1) between ASEAN and its partners, Vietnam’s products will enjoy the same preferential tax rate when exported to China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The favourable investment environment will also drive FDI flow from partner countries to ASEAN members, including Vietnam , he added.

However, he warned that Vietnamese businesses will also face great challenges once the ASEAN Community is realised, especially from competition provided by imported products as well as services and investment from ASEAN countries, which may lead to the shrinkage or even disappearance of some sectors or products.

He remained positive though, citing a recent study which said the full implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community and FTA ASEAN+1 agreements by 2018 will help regional countries increase their revenue by 4.5 percent compared with the 2007 figure, while average wages will rise by 7.6 percent for labourers and 9.6 percent for skilled workers.

The ASEAN Community will also bring other benefits in other fields, Minh said. He noted that the ASEAN Politic-Security Community will give regional people a bigger chance to live in a peaceful and friendly environment, where they unite and support each other for the common development and prosperity of the region.

Stronger cooperation in defence and more exchanges among ASEAN military officers will increase mutual understanding and trust among the nations’ armed forces, contributing to reducing risks of conflicts.

Meanwhile, closer security cooperation, especially in trans-national crime prevention and intelligence information sharing, will help people have safer lives, said Minh.

Furthermore, ASEAN’s increased cooperation in human rights through the establishment of the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the approval of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) has affirmed the member countries’ strong commitment to promoting and protecting people’s essential rights.

Human resources development cooperation, aiming for the harmonisation of educational standards and mutual recognition of degrees and vocational certificates will create more favourable conditions for labourers, especially skilled ones, to seek jobs in other countries in the region, which, Minh said, is extremely important to Vietnam as the country sends a large number of labourers abroad each year.

ASEAN is also building many legally binding documents to promote and protect interests of migrant workers, women and children.

In addition, stronger cooperation in such fields as health care and environmental protection will provide better security against epidemics and natural disasters.
In short, FM Minh affirmed the establishment of the ASEAN Community is for the interests of each person in the community, for a better and more sustainable life of all people in Southeast Asia./.