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‘Asean Charter for Asean Peoples’ is the theme of the 14th summit. Yet the dialogue with civil society groups got off to a wobbly start when Cambodia and Myanmar refused to recognise the groups representing their countries. Asean members seem to be succumbing to its tradition of non-interference in each other's affairs and taking decisions by consensus instead of sticking to its rules.
4. Does this signal that it is a long way away for Asean to make any progress on promoting participation of civil society and human rights?
Lasting and meaningful change takes a long time but it is always worth striving for. It should be our goal to get this done as soon as possible bearing in mind the importance of a strong civil society to strengthen democracy.
We can only hope to fastrack this aspect by strengthening the role of Asean as the forum for the exchange of experiences and information among and between governments and civil society, while promoting public sector-civil society dialogue and partnerships.
The biggest outcome of the summit apparently is the signing of Free Trade Agreement between Asean, New Zealand and Australia that could eventually add $48 billion to economies in the region.
5. Do you agree with the statement, if not, why? Which Asean member countries should benefit the most from this trade deal?
I agree, for it widens the base of participation and enables us to seize opportunities in these high-growth modern economies. However, I believe that in recognition of the different levels of development between Australia, NZ and the member Asean countries, provision should be made for technical assistance and capacity building programs to enable all parties to participate fully and to obtain full benefit from the trade agreement.
One important outcome for Asean is that it will have greater access to Australian and New Zealand technology and development of institutions, as well as professional support and services. And it comes at the right time-- on the heel of this recession when export growth has plummeted and when an intraregional opening of borders seems to be the most logical, cost- effective course of action.
Asean officials have argued against protectionism but have defended their own buy-local campaigns, saying they conform to trade rules and are similar to the "Buy American" clause that was inserted into the $787 billion US stimulus package.
6. Do you think those ‘buy-local’ campaigns go against the spirit of free trade. Don’t you think free trade and open economies are necessary for the world get out of the current recession? What’s your take?
I do not see this as a violation of free trade. Before we can define our brand to the world, we must first have begun to love it at home. That is how we grew from a home-grown business into a globalising brand. Any nation can promote itself in this manner and it should not be taken as anti-free trade. In the end, the market dynamics will take precedence. People will buy products that are of premium quality and suited to their budgets and preferences. It must come with a rule of thumb though, whereby the product you are promoting in this buy local campaign should not be priced so much higher than its global counterpart.
Days before the summit, finance ministers from Asean, China, South Korea and Japan set up an enlarged currency pool which countries can tap into to defend their currencies if they become the victims of runaway capital flight.
7. How effective will this swap arrangement be considering the unpredictable nature of global financial outlook?
The main idea here is to allow countries hit by short-term liquidity shortages to borrow foreign reserves from other countries to absorb selling pressure on their currencies. I believe this is an effective cushion and buffer. We all have taken lessons from the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and that has imprinted valuable reminders on providing the needed cushion for our banking system to weather the current turmoil. We are only being proactive and vigilant and implementing mechanism with due diligence by pooling ideas and resources. I believe this will help ensure that our common risks and vulnerabilities are reduced, and that can only be to our advantage.
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