KUALA LUMPUR - The Asean Community was officially declared on Sunday morning (Nov 22) by leaders of the 10 member states of Asean, in a landmark moment promising greater regional integration for the 48-year-old grouping.
Twelve years in the making, the foremost goal of the Asean Community is to turn the region into a single market and production base by eliminating remaining trade barriers and harmonising standards.
All 10 leaders, including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, signed a declaration on the establishment of the Asean Community, which will come into effect on Dec 31, as well as a declaration on a blueprint for taking the grouping forward over the next 10 years.
In practice, Asean countries have already done away with most tariff barriers, and increasing the competitiveness of Asean's manufacturing industry in the global market and reducing costs for everyone, said Asean chairman Najib Razak.
"We now have to ensure that we create a truly single market and production base, with freer movement of goods and services," said the Malaysian Prime Minister.
"For that - with common standards, far greater connectivity, and the removal of the barriers that make our borders a hindrance to growth and investment - will be one that is primed to expand exponentially."
The combined GDP of Asean economies is expected to grow from US$2.6 trillion to US$4.7 trillion by 2020. Seen as a bloc it will be the seventh largest economy today, and has the potential to be the fourth largest in the world as early as 2030.
But the notion of the Asean Community goes beyond economics, said Mr Najib.
"It is also about all of us being Asean, recognising that something special binds us, and making our citizens feel that Asean courses through their veins," he said.
All eyes are also now on member states to make sure that tangible steps are taken to realise the ambitions that have been set out, he added.
"We have now raised the bar and the expectations of our people," he said. "We are charged with meeting the aspirations of our younger generations, and of those to come."
Asean leaders also met with leaders from eight key partners, including the United States, China, India and Russia, at the East Asia Summit on Sunday morning.
The Asean leaders will also meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Sunday.
More stories on the Asean Economic Community (AEC) here.