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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?
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 statement may or may not happen. It may happen if Asean countries can export more to other regions and import less. Import should be done only between Asean countries. It may not happen when Asean countries cannot agree to produce collectively the requirements of other regions but to be focus on stimulating own country individually.
The most beneficial is the one not manufacturing the products but the trading houses. Most of them come from Singapore. Reason being is that the FTA will abolish all import and export duties and since they are just doing trading, they will benefit doing both import and export out. Countries doing most of the marketing aspects will get the bigger ‘cake’.
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?
Yes and no. Yes, ‘buy-local’ campaigns can go against the spirit of free trade, if the buyers have patriotism to support their own countries and realise the effect of the ‘buy-local’ campaigns towards countries’ economy.
It will not go against free trade spirit if for certain products, the prices are the prime factor of the purchasing act, not so much on other factors. Brand loyalty and strong emphasise on quality also dampens the ‘buy-local’ campaigns.
Free trade and open economies are not necessary to stimulate recovery as open economies will result in countries losing some of their fiscal stimulus impact to other economies via consumer and business spending on imports.
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 currency pool will only be effective if it is large enough to move or stabilise the forex / currency in the region. Otherwise, Asean & Asia countries can never be able to beat the Europeans and Americans who are more advance in knowledge and technology on money market as well as the Middle East people who are cash-rich. Besides there is a huge uncertainty in the fluctuations of currency due to numerous factors affecting it.
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