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Home  >>  Perspectives  >>  Post-Asean Summit: What Private  Sector Has to Say   >>  Cherie Hearts /2


‘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?

I believe that this is an issue we will have to grapple with for some time to come due to the cultural and ideological differences among the Asean member countries. In addition, participation of civil society and human rights is a fairly new concept in this part of the world, and it will inevitably take a long time for widespread acceptance to gradually take root.

The biggest outcome of the summit apparent 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?

The signing of an FTA between Asean, New Zealand and Australia certainly bodes well for all the parties involved as trade is an engine for collective growth. To me, it is inconsequential, and perhaps even counter-productive, to think which Asean member countries should benefit the most from this trade deal – more important is the fact that all of us will get to share in this bigger economic pie, and hopefully, also better political and social relations due to enhanced economic cooperation.

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?

Free trade and open economies are an economic utopia, but is often interlaced with practical political and social considerations in the real world. Afterall, understandably, the rapid and un-anticipated deterioration in the global economy is bound to create a knee-jerk reaction amongst individuals and countries that they have been made to suffer through no fault of theirs.

Consequentially, they will be indignant about letting others benefit from their stimulus efforts, especially if these unintended beneficiaries are viewed to be the ones who have caused the trouble and are now incompetent in clearing up the mess. On the longer run however, we must not lose faith in the system of free trade and open economies, that is an important grease in growth.

That may, however, have to take a backseat for now as global sentiments are on the wild. Buy-local efforts to prop up individual economies first, before re-focusing on free trade again, may be what we have to settle with for now. Nonetheless, I urge the developed economies, especially the US and the European Union, to keep free trade a priority even as they are grappling with their individual problems. Because doing otherwise could potentially have a drastic and irreversible impact on the developing world, and the strain in relations could be difficult to unwind.

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?

In my view, the spirit of cooperation that has been displayed is what matters, and Asian countries can take faith that we are holding hands through this unprecedented crisis. The neighbourly ties will serve us well through these tough times and beyond. On a more practical note, this swap arrangement will serve as a backup we can tap into if the going gets really tough; and also importantly, it will be a deterrent against potential speculators who may be looking for opportunities to take advantage of weaknesses that may show.


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