PM Lee calls for redoubling of efforts to integrate Asean's economies

(From left) Philippine President Benigno Aquino, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thai deputy Prime Minister Phongthepth Epkanjana, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, Myanmar President Thein Sein,
(From left) Philippine President Benigno Aquino, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thai deputy Prime Minister Phongthepth Epkanjana, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, Myanmar President Thein Sein, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong join hands as they pose for a photograph at the start of the 24th ASEAN summit at the Myanmar International Convention Center in Naypyidaw on May 11, 2014. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday, May 11, 2014, called on Asean to redouble efforts to integrate the economies of the grouping's 10 member states and accelerate community building. -- PHOTO: AFP

NAYPYIDAW: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday called on Asean to redouble efforts to integrate the economies of the grouping's 10 member states and accelerate community building.

He urged leaders to find the political will to tackle the most difficult and sensitive issues remaining as Asean bids to launch its economic community by 2015.

Asean should also complete the 9th round of the Asean Framework Agrement on services by August, fully implement the Asean open skies agreement before 2015 and promote awareness of the Asean economic community among busineses, especially small and medium Enterprises, PM Lee said.

He was speaking at the Asean leaders' plenary session, in which he outlined ways for the Asean countries to "stay united and move forward as one".

PM Lee also addressed the need for Asean to make progress beyond 2015.

Noting that community building "is a journey, not a destination", he said the post-2015 vision should build on the foundation set out in the Asean Community Blueprints.

"We should be bold and ahead of the curve, to improve prospects for our countries and peoples," he said.

Mr Lee also called for a speeding up of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership - a trade pact involving Asean and six partner economies including China and India.

Asean must show leadership and adopt creative approaches where needed, he said, as Singapore prepares to host the 5th round of the RCEP negotiations in June.

But PM Lee said Asean should be cautious in assessing whether to add new dialogue partners.

"Many countries are interested, for example Brazil, Turkey. Their applications have merit, but we should be careful about expanding Asean, given our major priorities within Asean and resource constraints."

PM Lee also thanked Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for his many contributions to Asean.

Indonesia will elect a new president in July.

"He has led Indonesia ably - growing its economy, keeping the peace, enhancing its contributions to the region and the world," he said.

"Asean has benefitted greatly from a stable and growing Indonesia - from Indonesia's priority on Asean, its importance to Asean, and its contributions at international forums like the G20."