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ASEAN’s Surin talks integration measures

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ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan speaks yesterday during an ASEAN meeting in Siem Reap. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

ASEAN Secretary General Dr Surin Pitsuwan speaks to Post Deputy Business Editor May Kunmakara in an exclusive Siem Reap interview about how ASEAN will integrate into the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015.

Dr Pitsuwan, who is in Siem Reap this week for the 44th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting which ends tomorrow, also speaks about the progress of the four newer ASEAN member states, especially Cambodia.

Surin, you have joined many meetings since the opening of the 44th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting – like the AEM-26th AFTA Council Meeting, AEM-15th AIA Council Meeting. Could you tell us of the outcomes of these meetings?

Well, I think they worked on the various economic issues that would threaten closer cooperation on the economic agenda among ourselves.

They have discussed the issue of customs cooperation to make sure that goods can pass through borders more easily, to make sure that there would be facilitation along the borders. But, people of ASEAN will feel that they can buy and sell and they can move goods across the borders easier.

They hope that the leaders will be able push through the endorsement of many of the initiatives that they have taken up here.

They are working on the comprehensive regional trade agreements with all the six dialogue partners so that we will have an agreement with each of them. But, the big one, they hope for that to be endorsed some time in November in Phnom Penh.

They are also concerned with the fact that not all people of ASEAN are benefiting from the cooperation, from the development of ASEAN and they want to make sure that everyone is included across ASEAN. So they want to make sure that everybody feels some benefit from ASEAN.

They’re also working on the issue of what they called connectivity – meaning that all ASEAN countries are not connected from each other – structurally with road, rail, shipping, airlines, and other infrastructure. They also would like to see all the laws and regulations concerning movement of goods, services, investments, and people be integrated to aid facilitation.

These are the areas and ways that the peoples of ASEAN will benefit.

We have seen that the six ASEAN member states had already liberalised trade to zero tariffs, meanwhile the four younger members need more time to prepare themselves. Can you offer an evaluation of their progress? Are they ready for the AFTA? Do you still see any challenges for them?
Well, the four have flexibility because they still are not fixed, not all ready to open up of full competition. The older member states certainly understand and sympathise with that so there is flexibility among them as well. But, all of them are working towards the community by 2015.

I think, eventually, all four will join the other six in opening up in agreeing to cooperate on every level in every issues.

It’s only what we call ‘accommodation’ for newer member states of ASEAN who are not at the same level of economic development to go step by step rather than opening up immediately, but it is still the goal.

But, you can see the world of ASEAN, in all six elder ASEAN members, you can see the recent evidence here in Siem Reap – that’s tourism in Cambodia.

All the ASEAN Economic Ministers have been talking a lot about the ASEAN Economic Community which is going to materialised in 2015. As you are the Secretary General of ASEAN, what is the progress of the AEC?

Well, you know that we have a lot of instruments that we need in place first.

We have three years left, we have about 26 or 27 per cent of the issues remaining that need to be agreed on. I think that we have reached a point that we will work on.

Now, we have to concentrate on the implementation. We have to concentrate on the operation of realisation of those agreements on the ground in every country.

We may need something in terms of new laws, new legislation, or amendments of old laws, rules and regulations or even of those other things that we are working on.

Of course, it is not easy. But, of course, at the same time, it is overly difficult so we have to work hard – that’s what we are doing.

Can you evaluate the progress of Cambodia complying with the other requirements of AEC? What else does Cambodia need to be do? What else needs to be done?

Well, Cambodia is doing very well – it’s very responsible, a contributing partner of ASEAN. And this year, Cambodia has a very, very important role to play – the role of chair.

I think, Cambodia is doing everything it can – moving very quickly, very fast on the integration process. I think that the phase is fine.

To contact the reporter on this story: May Kunmakara at kunmakara.may@phnompenhpost.com

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