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AseanAffairs Magazine May - June 2011




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pp Dato’ Mohamed Iqbal Rawther (Right), Vice President, ASEAN Business Forum / Chairman, Malaysian Institute of Management is chairing Enhancing ASEAN Connectivity: From Master Plan to Implementation session with H.E. Bambang Susantono, Vice-Minister for Transportation Indonesia and Member, High Level Task Force on ASEAN Connectivity at the 8th Asean Leadership Forum, May 8 & 9, 2011, Hotel Nikko Jakarta, Indonesia.

Q: What are the ways in which the arrival of the AEC will help the poorer Asean countries? Are there drawbacks for these countries?

A: The Asean idea took off from a regional geopolitical understanding first. Later it evolved into an economic necessity and the AEC-the Asean Economic Community was mooted. Some progress has been achieved particularly in the dismantling of tariffs and duties. In the wake of global disorder, both economic and political, the need to strengthen the AEC framework has become imperative.


Q: What other common trade or economic policies should Asean pursue?

A:Each country is very much driven by its own needs and priorities. Therefore, there is very little that goes into what may be called a common economic development framework for the whole of Asean.

The recent free trade agreements with Japan, China and India provide Asean with a common platform and a unified approach to develop trade and investment flows between Asia’s three largest economies and the Asean member countries. This is a positive step and Asean countries can position themselves to take advantage of the new opportunities for trade and investment with these economic giants. Indeed, there are encouraging signs in this direction.

What other common policies would economically benefit Asean member states?

A:: The Asean Investment Area was intended to attract investments into designated regions and countries in Asean. The intention was a laudable one. In actual fact, the AIA concept has not been effective. First, individual countries are facing dwindling foreign direct investments. Therefore, each country is pursuing its own agenda. Secondly, there is no real promotion and marketing for Asean as a common destination. Countries are actually competing with one another. There is no effective mechanism to champion the Asean case.

Q: In the continental Asean countries China is making a push in terms of infrastructure-roads, railroads. Do you think this will raise living standards in, for example, Laos, or are these simply a faster way to bring money back to China?

A::Infrastructure – roads, railways, ports, airports – is a necessity or a precondition for development. It does not matter who brings in this benefit to a country in dire need. While the investor looks for return, in this case China, the host country, for example Laos, stands to benefit as well. Also, the push enhances Asean connectivity.


Q: Better education often brings better income. In what ways must Asean countries improve their public education?

A:: Education is the key to prosperity, at the individual level and the nation as a whole. Education per se or a certification and award of degrees, is only one aspect. Education that leads to the acquisition of skills – to be precise – employable skills, is more important for increasing income.

Q: As a world economic leader, in what ways could Singapore reach out to other Asean countries?

A:: Singapore is a good example of an economy where the service sector performs exceptionally well. Its meticulous planning and efficient execution both in public and private sectors can be brought to bear on other countries. The desire should emanate from those who want to model Singapore’s success and move up on the learning curve.

Q: As a community, what are the most important economic issues that confront Asean?

A:: Asean to a layman in any of the Asean countries is still a concept that is vague and undefined. The cultural and geographical diversities remain as barriers. The commonalities of culture, religion and languages are hardly unifying factors at this point in time. A strengthening of these variables is critical for Asean to position itself as an economic community...........


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