How the USA is helping ASEAN build its Economic Community

ASEAN's goal of an Economic Community (AEC) by 2015 is an "extremely ambitious project" which "will require a tremendous amount of political backing from both internal and external sources" to succeed, Michael G. Plummer, a Senior Fellow in Economics at the East-West Center (Hawii, USA) wrote in East-West Dialogue.

He stated it is "clearly in the interest of the United States to support this process" for at least three major reasons:
  • the AEC will enhance US-ASEAN commercial ties - "the value of US exports to ASEAN nations is approximately the same as those to China and almost four times those to India, despite the publicity that these two Asian giants receive [and] the ASEAN region is also a favourite location for US multinationals."
  • ASEAN economic integration will favour the USA's strategic interests - "ASEAN countries are critical allies in the 'war on terror' and some have long-standing (albeit low-level) insurgencies."
  • ASEAN integration will help balance the economic power of China and India - the rise of ASEAN as an economic power - with similar advantages in production and scale to those of China and India - will help to bring greater symmetry and balance to managing this important period of transition."
He argued that the foundations for an ASEAN-US partnership are already in place:
  • The Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative of 2002 sets out terms for possible bilateral free-trade areas between the United States and ASEAN;
  • The Enhanced Partnership Plan of Action of 2006 envisions cooperation in the political/security, economic, and social and educational areas;
  • The US-ASEAN Trade and Investment Framework Agreement of 2006 provides a means for discussing trade and investment links; and 
  • The creation of the post of US Ambassador to ASEAN was a major step signalling U.S. recognition of ASEAN’s significance.  
"But so far, the United States has free trade agreement only with Singapore.  Its negotiations with Malaysia and Thailand are stalled, and there are no immediate plans for negotiations with other ASEAN countries."

He advised the USA to take a two-step approach: (1) begin negotiations with all remaining ASEAN countries by the end of 2010 and (2) plan for the creation of an ASEAN-US Economic Space by 2020.

Scot A. Marciel, USA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia and Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs, added that the USA has "greatly increased its cooperation with ASEAN" including the establishment of the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, the launching of the joint State Department and USAID "ADVANCE" (ASEAN Development Vision to Advance National Cooperation and Economic Integration) program, the ASEAN-US Technical Assistance and Training Facility (located in the ASEAN Secretariat) and support for the ASEAN Single Window and Regional Supply Chain/Competitiveness programs.

"We are working with ASEAN now to define areas of future cooperation covering the other two pillars of the ASEAN community - political-security and social-cultural - and also to expand our work together on key regional and global issues. This is a relationship that already is strong, and we see tremendous opportunities to expand it," he said.