November 18, 2007
ASEAN can look forward with confidence, optimism
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said a more integrated ASEAN will be better placed to strengthen relations with its key trading and investment partners.
Opening the ASEAN Business and Investment Seminar on Saturday, Mr Lee noted that progress has been made in the negotiation of free trade agreements (FTAs) with dialogue partners.
ASEAN has completed negotiating the goods and services chapters of the FTA with China, and is now working on the investments chapter.
With South Korea, both sides will sign the services chapter at the ASEAN-Korea Summit next week.
A substantive conclusion has also been reached with regard to FTA negotiations with Japan.
The ASEAN Business and Investment Seminar has been held on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit since 2003, and it facilitates the exchange of views to improve the economic and business climates in the region.
This year's summit will see the signing of the ASEAN Economic Blueprint aimed at enhancing the grouping's integration process.
Mr Lee said: "Closer economic integration will benefit the people of ASEAN in many ways. They will enjoy cheaper and more easily accessible products. More jobs will be created as the region attracts new investments. Incomes and standards of living will rise as the region develops and grows.
"With wider recognition of qualifications, those with the necessary skills will have more opportunity to work in other countries. In addition, it will be easier to travel in the region at more competitive fares and without visa restrictions."
The prime minister added that businesses also stand to gain as the Blueprint sets out clear milestones for removing trade barriers among member countries, which will benefit both the big companies and the small and medium enterprises.
Economic integration, however, brings about some challenges.
Among them is the need to ensure that the poor in each country are not left behind.
"The forces of globalisation have the potential to lift millions around the world from dire poverty, but they can also cause social tensions as they sharpen the differences between rich and poor within the same society. We will have to find ways to deal with these issues, and ensure that vulnerable members are not left behind in the race for greater prosperity," said Mr Lee.
As countries become more affluent, their economies will also consume more resources, which could impose greater strains on the environment.
Mr Lee said Southeast Asian countries have to play their part in the global effort to find solutions to environmental challenges.
He said: "Economic progress does not stand alone. As countries become more affluent, their economies will consume more resources, and often impose greater strains on the environment. Higher standards of living and growing urbanisation will increase demand for basic necessities such as food, clean water and energy.
"Energy, particularly in the form of fossil fuels, is a major global concern. With fears growing about greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, there is greater impetus to accelerate the deployment of emission-reduction technologies, promote energy efficiency... In its own interest, ASEAN will have to balance the competing demands of economics, energy and the environment. Unbridled growth without heed to environmental consequences will ultimately be disastrous.
"This is why we have made 'Energy, Environment, Climate change and Sustainable Development' the overall theme for our meetings in Singapore."
Over the next two days, participants at the business summit will hear from several ASEAN leaders and their economic ministers on efforts that their countries have undertaken to enhance their business and investment climates.
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