Asean leaders vow to uphold multilateral trade system

(From left) Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim, Singapore
(From left) Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi, Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Myanmar President U Win Myint having a family photo taken for the Asean Leaders Gathering in Nusa Dua, Bali, yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Member states will work together to ensure no one is left behind in march to progress

Asean remains committed to upholding the open and rules-based multilateral trading system that has long underpinned the region's economic growth, and will work together to ensure that no one is left behind in the march for progress, its leaders vowed yesterday.

The 10-member grouping has this past year, amid trade disputes and rising protectionism, been vocal in its support of free and open trade.

And yesterday, its leaders reaffirmed their commitment to multilateralism and international cooperation when they met in Bali, where the meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have seen calls by economic chiefs to modernise, not dismantle, the global trade system.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters after the meeting that Asean is redoubling its efforts on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and hopes to achieve a "substantial conclusion" by the year-end. The 16-country pact would be the world's largest free trade deal.

Amid global challenges, Asean's economy remains a bright spot, noted Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who convened the Asean Leaders Gathering and co-chaired it with PM Lee.

Asean has also made progress in the achievement of sustainable development goals, he added, noting that extreme poverty had plunged.

"Asean leadership has agreed on how crucial it is to reduce the disparity and development gap between member states," said Mr Joko. "This is an important step in ensuring that no one is left behind."

 
 

Discussions about sustainable development took centre stage at the gathering, which also involved leaders from the United Nations, IMF and World Bank.

Asean will face a range of challenges on sustainable development, from economic restructuring and accelerating urbanisation to ageing populations, said PM Lee. "As we pursue economic integration, it is important that Asean also aligns our economic objectives with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development so that our economic growth will bring tangible benefits to the 630 million citizens of Asean."

Sustainable development is a priority under Singapore's Asean chairmanship, added PM Lee.

The Republic will upgrade its technical cooperation centres in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and has set up a new office, Infrastructure Asia, to facilitate implementation of infrastructure projects. This will help spur economic growth, he said.

PM Lee also urged his Asean colleagues to keep collaborating with international bodies, such as the IMF and World Bank, through regional and multilateral initiatives.

Mr Joko raised the importance of thinking about a mechanism for regional and global cooperation for post-disaster recovery.

He also encouraged using technology and innovative financing sources to achieve sustainable development goals.Setting out Indonesia's progress in sustainable development, he noted poverty has fallen to 9.8 per cent this year, while households' access to clean water is up by 76 per cent. He also stressed that the achievement of sustainable development goals requires "global leadership and shared responsibilities".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2018, with the headline 'Asean leaders vow to uphold multilateral trade system'. Print Edition | Subscribe