Asean Summit: Integrated Asean economic community will help improve citizens' lives, says PM Lee

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (third right) and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo as they arrive at the opening ceremony of 25th ASEAN Summit in Myanmar International Convention Centre at Naypyitaw on Nov 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (third right) and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo as they arrive at the opening ceremony of 25th ASEAN Summit in Myanmar International Convention Centre at Naypyitaw on Nov 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NAYPYITAW - Asean countries should double their efforts to meet targets for the Asean Economic Community by end 2015, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a meeting with fellow Asean leaders on Wednesday. 

Ultimately, an economically strong and integrated Asean will be better placed to improve its citizens' lives and deal with regional and global challenges, Mr Lee added.

"An Asean that is economically integrated, strong and united can better attract investments, create jobs, manage regional challenges, as well as be an effective platform to engage larger powers," he said.

Mr Lee was speaking at the opening of the 25th Asean Summit in Myanmar's capital, where he urged members to continue looking for ways to keep their economies relevant and competitive. 

Besides accomplishing the Asean Community - which includes the Asean Economic Community that aspires to greater economic integration and freer movement of goods and capital - they should also push for the full implementation of the Asean Open Skies Agreement by the end of next year.

The agreement, which will allow more frequent flights between Asean cities, will facilitate trade, investment and tourism flows across South-east Asia.

He also welcomed the development of non-binding public-private partnership principles developed to help Asean countries work with the private sector for infrastructure projects of different sizes.

To date, the Asean countries have completed about 80 per cent of the targets set in the Asean Economic Community Blueprint. But Mr Lee said the remaining 20 per cent would be "the most challenging".

At the same time, he said Asean's members should focus on sustainable growth, an issue that has gained prominence amid changing climate patterns in recent years.

He welcomed Indonesia's recent ratification of the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution and President Joko Widodo's public comments to address forest fires in Indonesia. 

Mr Lee also encouraged countries to support regional mechanisms such as the Asean Haze Monitoring System, which Singapore had developed, to fight haze.

And he welcomed Myanmar's setting up of an Asean Institute for Green Economy, which was launched on Wednesday, and will look at sustainable development issues. 

Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who is with Mr Lee at the Asean summit, told reporters that members should also look at ways to increase intra-Asean trade. 

Trade between member-countries currently makes up less than a quarter of Asean's total trade value, with most countries doing three to four times as much trade outside of the grouping.

"Really, as an Asean Community, what does it mean for our people? It must increase trade; it must increase the economic relationship," said Mr Shanmugam. "If you look at the European Union, if you look at other communities, the intra-community trade is significant. Ours is only 20 per cent, so we need to increase that."

yanliang@sph.com.sg