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Top official seeks unity in ASEAN amid crisis

A TOP official from Cambodia’s Ministry of Economy and Finance called Tuesday for greater cooperation between ASEAN members to help the region’s poorest members lift themselves out of recession in the wake of the global economic crisis.

“A key challenge to the region is not just to get out of the crisis, but [to accomplish this while] not losing sight of the negative impact of the crisis on the livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable groups in ASEAN,” said Kong Vibol, secretary of state at the ministry.

Speaking Tuesday at the opening of the two-day 34th Annual Conference of the Federation of the ASEAN Economic Association (FAEA), he said US$69 billion in stimulus spending had been allocated across ASEAN member nations, adding that the money was concentrated on boosting the hardest-hit sectors.

Although stimulus measures vary from country to country – from raising purchasing power for the poor to providing liquidity for big business – the top priorities should remain sustained economic growth and promoting social cohesion, he said.

He asked ASEAN members to stay focused on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at reducing poverty, slated to be accomplished by 2015.

Achieving these goals “will help reduce the gap between richer and poorer members in the path towards building an ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community”, he said.

The Asia Development Bank (ADB) reported that international trade was contracting at a level not seen since the Great Depression, causing approximately 60 million people in developing Asian nations to fall into poverty this year, and nearly 100 million more are expected to follow in 2010, said Kong Vibol.

Three of the four “key pillars” of Cambodia’s economy are on track for a contraction this year, he added, anticipating a 4 percent decline in garment industry revenues, a 7.8 percent drop in tourism receipts and 2.6 percent less construction spending than a year earlier.

He said the economy would still grow around 2 percent this year, based on 4.3 percent growth in the agricultural sector, 10.1 percent expansion in the mining sector and gains in the food and beverage and financial services sector of 8.6 and 13.1 percent, respectively.

His projections are in stark contrast with those from international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank and the Economist Intelligence Unit, all of which are projecting economic contraction this year and a return to growth in 2010.

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