The ASEAN Region will officially develop a central market by the end of this year, but other more ambitious goals are not expected until 2020, according to Malaysia’s Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed.

While attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the minister said 2015 is laying the foundation for the establishment and development of the ASEAN Economic Community.

The Southeast Asian region, with a population of about 600 million people, had set December 31, 2015 as the deadline for abolishing tariffs and facilitating free movement of skilled workers across the borders of country members.

However, significant disparities in the stages of economic development within the bloc could hinder the progress, leading Mustapa to cite 2020 as a more likely target for the two key initiatives.

The business community has been calling on ASEAN leaders to accelerate integration initiatives, but Mustapa retorted that implementation of the bloc model must be gradual, as it requires sensitivity to the borders, customs, immigration, and regulations of member countries.

The ASEAN bloc includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.-VNA