Stakeholders continue working towards ASEAN economic integration by 2015

South East Asian nations are sticking to their ambitious plans for economic integration by 2015. Reuters reports that ASEAN has so far eliminated 95% of tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and is working on deepening transport links and on a common visa. "The remaining issues, which include each country legislating and implementing agreements, represent the difficult part," said the news agency.

A recent Asian Development Bank report noted that ASEAN has only partly free trade in goods, services and capital, and no labour mobility, no convergence of laws on competition, and no common monetary or fiscal policy.

"Different languages, ethnicities, political systems, historical grievances against one another, contrasting economic policies, will all have to be overcome," commented Reuters.

Commercial organisations, however, have done much of that already, said Joseph Tan, chief economist for Asia for Credit Suisse. "Already, the businesses are very adept in operating in this environment, the opacity of the regulation, and the way the government and bureaucracy and the red tape goes on and on in ASEAN," he said. "They do not actually need the governments to rubberstamp anything."

Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN's Secretary-General, said 2015 integration was a goalpost rather than a goal, in that it was something to aim for. "But certainly the basic pillars, the basic foundation of the community, are being put together progressively," he said. "We have four more years and we are on course."

Asked if the problems in Europe would be a warning to any South East Asian integration, Surin said: "European union is an inspiration, not a model. Integration has brought a lot of challenges, closer integration will certainly expose yourself to each other's weaknesses. We are looking at these experiences very, very carefully. What is useful we want to emulate, what is not suitable to us, we have to be careful about. One currency is not on the agenda."