ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
More economic integration needed for prosperous ASEAN, says PM Lee
SUNNYLANDS: Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called for greater economic integration between the 10-member states of the Association of Southeast-Asian nations (ASEAN), to ensure the region continues to be prosperous.
Speaking on Monday (Tuesday, Feb 16, Singapore time) at the first retreat session of the special US-ASEAN summit at the Sunnylands estate in California, Mr Lee said it is not enough to lower costs or simply add value, pointing instead to the need to create value through innovation and entrepreneurship.
The special US-ASEAN summit in Sunnylands is the first of its kind, and one described by PM Lee as particularly important and meaningful. This is the first summit where the US and ASEAN are coming to the table as strategic partners, after elevating their relationship last November.
Noting that economic cooperation is a major part of this relationship, Mr Lee said value must be created through innovation and entrepreneurship – within the individual countries, the region, and through cooperation with the US – and outlined three ways this can be achieved.
First, it means pursuing greater economic integration within ASEAN – for example, through the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which has lowered barriers to trade and capital flows, and fostered a more pro-business environment, he said.
"The AEC offers great potential for promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. Because no single ASEAN member country can match the size, the wealth, and the sophistication of the American market – with 300 million plus consumers. But if you take ASEAN, it is a significant single market and production base, with a combined population of 600 million,” he said.
“The more we can bring ASEAN together as one market, the more we can replicate for ourselves some of the tremendous advantages that America enjoys as one barrier-free market."
ENVIRONMENT FRIENDLY TO BUSINESSES, START-UPS
Next, Mr Lee touched on the importance of cultivating a business-friendly environment within each nation. For example, by lowering the cost of doing business through the constant reviewing, streamlining and reviewing of unnecessary regulations.
PM Lee also noted that governments need specific policies to promote, catalyse and encourage research, innovation and entrepreneurship, while working with the private sector.
He pointed to efforts that Singapore has taken in this area. "We also tried to create an ecosystem that is friendly to start-ups. We've set up about 40 government-backed incubators, and launched a start-up district called the Launchpad, which brings together the Government, start-ups, venture capitalists and individual talents trying something new," he said.
These efforts have begun to pay off, with the number of start-ups more than doubling over the past 10 years and investments coming into Singapore – because of the ecosystem in place, he added.
Mr Lee also welcomed the US initiative to help ASEAN build innovative and entrepreneurial economies. This will boost the efforts of the individual nations, as there is much that can be learnt from American entrepreneurial culture, and from the strengths of the US business community and private sector, he said.
PM Lee said he is confident that ASEAN and the US will expand economic ties and deepen trade links – a sentiment echoed by US President Barack Obama in his opening remarks.
“I’ve made now seven visits to the ASEAN region -- more than any previous American President. At our last meeting in Kuala Lumpur, we forged a new Strategic Partnership. And our sustained engagement is delivering concrete results that benefit all of us – momentum that we can build on here at this summit. Together, we can continue to increase the trade and economic partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for our people,” Mr Obama said.
“Since I took office, we’ve boosted trade between the United States and ASEAN by 55 per cent. The region is now our fourth-largest goods trading partner, including US exports that support more than 500,000 American jobs. US companies have been the largest source of foreign investment in ASEAN – one of the many reasons that the region’s GDP has surged in recent years, lifting people from poverty into the middle class," he added.
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