ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations also plans to establish a strict monitoring system to ensure timely compliance with a new blueprint, which envisions transforming the region into a booming EU-style economic community by 2015, according to the reports, seen Saturday by The Associated Press.
ASEAN's 10 member countries, once bastions of protectionism, have forged a number of deals among themselves to demolish trade barriers.
They are negotiating similar pacts with Asian economic powerhouses like China and India, along with affluent Japan and South Korea -- trying to benefit from the giants' overwhelming investment clout, rather than be trounced by it.
On Friday, ASEAN economic ministers meeting in Manila approved a comprehensive blueprint to create an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, five years ahead of the original schedule. ASEAN heads of state are expected to give final approval at a November summit in Singapore.
But the ASEAN economic bloc's chairman, Philippine Trade Secretary Peter Favila, warned that the blueprint was not a magic wand that can instantly transform their region "from ashes to ballroom elegance, as in the case of the Cinderella story."
ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong, in a confidential report to the ministers, said the regional bloc should learn to comply with free-trade obligations on time -- and remove perceptions that it "is prone to `agree fast, act slow.'"
"This has fostered continuing skepticism outside the official circles," Ong said. "ASEAN needs to focus on getting results."
In a bid to ensure compliance with free-trade arrangements, Ong recommended that the ASEAN economic ministers "institute compensatory measures or denial of benefits for delay in implementation."
While ASEAN's economy grew at an impressive rate of 6 percent last year, and was forecast by the Asian Development Bank to register 5.6 percent growth this year, Ong said the bloc faces a slew of challenges. Associated Press reports