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ADB Institute: too much focus on 2015

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Masahiro Kawai, dean of the Asia Development Bank Institute, gestures as he speaks to the Post. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Masahiro Kawai, dean of the Asia Development Bank Institute, believes too great a focus is being placed on the realisation of the 2015 ASEAN Economic Community at the cost of considering middle- and longer-term issues in the ASEAN region.

“Economic community-building is not going to be completed in 2015,” Kawai told the Post. “It’s going to continue as a process, and many other challenges will still be there. In particular, important issues are whether ASEAN would remain relevant and can maintain its centrality in Asia’s economic architecture.”

At the end of this year, the Asia Development Bank Institute will launch ASEAN 2030: Toward a Borderless Economic Community.

According to its foreword, the book overviews three key factors of ASEAN’s economic development over the next two decades: the aspirations of individual countries for 2030; the key challenges they face; and policy options to overcome them.

According to Kawai, Cambodia’s principal goal for the next two decades should be to move from being a “low-income country” with a per capita GDP of less than $1,000 to being a “middle-income country” with a per capita GDP over $1,000.

Primary challenges for Cambodia are fostering human capital, diversifying the economy, developing the agricultural sector and reducing poverty, Kawai said in his talk given at the ERIA-Harvard symposium on Tuesday.

The best policy options suggested to overcome those coming challenges are adequate spending on education, investing in health care and encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises to enter the agricultural sector and connect with multinational organisations, according to Kawai.

With a lot of focus recently on the “Asia Century”, particularly China and India, Kawai told the Post that Cambodia could benefit most by connecting with larger and growing economies, producing exportable goods and becoming part of a regional production network in which it should produce intermediate products.

“One of the strategies to achieve this would be to become part of a regional production network. Cambodia can export some intermediate products to an Indian factory or a Chinese factory, which can put the things together and export,” he said.

“Cambodia does not have to export the final products to be consumed by the consumers in those countries. The point is to take advantage of the growth opportunities in these big economies.”

Another issue highlighted in the book is building a more powerful ASEAN secretariat to maintain its relevance and encourage cohesion among the members.

“At the regional level, the ASEAN secretariat’s power is too weak. Unless ASEAN countries agree to strengthen the power of the secretariat and delegate or pool some of their national sovereignty [the secretariat] will remain weak and continue to be fragmented,” Kawai said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erika Mudie at erika.mudie@phnompenhpost.com

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