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November 18, 2007

Singapore Pushes Economics, Environment

Southeast Asian countries must jointly build a cohesive economic community to compete with China and India -- but not at the expense of the environment -- Singapore's prime minister said Saturday.
Addressing a business leaders' meeting ahead of the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit starting Monday in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said ASEAN should be the root of Asian economic growth.
"Our countries offer complementary advantages to businesses, and a neutral core around which the rest of Asia can build economic ties, and a regional framework of cooperation," Lee said in his keynote address at the ASEAN business summit.
"To sustain this, ASEAN has to become more integrated and cohesive. Only thus can we keep up with larger and stronger economies like China and India," he said.
Foreign investments flowing into Southeast Asia hit a record high last year and the region has moved toward freer trade. Still, it grapples with pockets of poverty and protectionism, as well as daunting competition from China and India.

ASEAN countries agreed last year to form by 2015 an ASEAN Economic Community -- a single market and production base with a free flow of goods, services, investments and skilled labor.
Member nations will sign a blueprint for the creation of the European Union-style single market in the coming week, Lee said.
"The blueprint sets out clear milestones for removing trade barriers among member countries and for implementing smooth and efficient business processes across borders," Lee said.
ASEAN has a market of more than half a billion people with a combined gross domestic product -- the sum of all goods and services -- in excess of $500 billion.
The blueprint, a draft of which was seen by The Associated Press, allows for some flexibility in the enforcement of free-trade obligations.
Lee said a more integrated ASEAN would be better able to strengthen relations with its trading and investment partners. He noted that the regional bloc has been negotiating free trade agreements with China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the European Union.
The prime minister also said ASEAN must strengthen efforts to address energy security and climate change, although he acknowledged that would be a challenge for many countries.
"Unbridled growth without heed to environmental consequences will ultimately be disastrous. But neither can countries lightly sacrifice economic growth and higher living standards for our peoples," he said.
He urged member countries to "play their part" as responsible members of the international community and participate in global efforts to tackle environmental problems.
ASEAN's members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Courtesy AP 

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