It's the best way to meet growing competition, create new opportunities
AS he pressed for greater Asean economic integration yesterday at the Asean leaders' meeting, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore companies also stand to gain from it.
'Closer Asean integration will boost Singapore's position as the regional business hub and create new opportunities in HQ services and supply chain management,' he said at the 20th Asean Summit Plenary Session.
Opening up Asean's services sector will offer a bigger market to Singapore services companies such as those selling accountancy and medical services, Mr Lee said.
And getting the Masterplan on Asean Connectivity off the ground will mean potential projects for Singapore companies in the logistics, infrastructure development, information and technology businesses, according to him.
Mr Lee noted that the 10 member states have come a long way to become an effective grouping of prospering economies with good international standing. But he cautioned that they must not rest on their laurels.
Asean must work together to become stronger because global competition, especially from China and India, is tough. Investors have more choices; and people in Asean have come to expect more, he said.
Mr Lee said that speeding up Asean economic integration is the best way to meet growing competition and create new opportunities for the grouping.
'We must make sure this project succeeds, both for its own merits and because it is the test of the credibility of Asean,' he said. 'The global business community is watching carefully to see if Asean can deliver on this key project.'
While progress has been made recently in areas such as investment, where the Asean Comprehensive Investment Agreement will pave the way for greater investments among Asean countries, Mr Lee said that the grouping must press on with other commitments, such as the opening up of the services sector.
He noted that the 8th Package of Services commitments was supposed to have been completed by end-2010, but was delayed.
'We must expedite the completion of this 8th Package, so that we can carry our trade liberalisation and cooperation beyond goods and services into new areas,' Mr Lee said.
Pushing for deeper Asean integration, he said that the grouping should aim to launch talks for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with interested free trade agreement (FTA) partners, starting with trade in goods, at the next Asean Summit.
This Asean++ FTA, endorsed last November at the Asean Summit in Bali, is a 'high-quality' FTA that goes beyond existing Asean+1 FTAs. It's aimed at bringing together the 10 Asean members, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
Meanwhile, Mr Lee said that working groups on trade in goods, services and investment must be set up quickly for Asean's Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Indicating that the Dialogue Partners have given their backing for the Masterplan on Asean Connectivity last year, he said that the grouping should follow up with concrete projects for mutual gains by working with organisations such as the Asian Development Bank on connectivity projects, including the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link and the Asean Highway Network. 'The Asean Connectivity Coordinating Committee should work with National Coordinators, private sectors and international financial institutions to sustain the momentum,' Mr Lee said.
Cambodia said yesterday that it will focus on financial stability and narrowing regional development gaps during its chairmanship of Asean this year.
In his opening speech, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that his top priority as Asean's chairman is 'strengthening the mechanisms for ensuring financial stability in the region as well as for preventing future crises' in the global economy.
This will require the doubling in size of the Chiang Mai Initiative, a multilateral currency swap system likened to an Asian Monetary Fund, from US$120 billion to US$240 billion.
He said that Asean should also push ahead with its plans to create a single market of almost 600 million people by 2015, and establish an infrastructure fund to improve infrastructure links.