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Tue, Nov 28, 2006 - Page 10 News List

ASEAN leaders expected to approve integration plans

KEEPING UP Singapore's deputy prime minister said a unified ASEAN bloc was essential to ensure that the region didn't get left behind by China and India

AP , KUALA LUMPUR

Southeast Asian leaders are expected to endorse plans to step up regional economic integration and create a common market by 2015 instead of 2020, Singapore's deputy prime minister said yesterday.

Economic ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will make the recommendation to their leaders at the Dec. 11-13 ASEAN summit in the Philippines, Singapore minister Wong Kan Seng (黃根成) told a business seminar.

The leaders will also receive recommendations for a new charter that will lead to a "new phase of deeper ASEAN integration," he said.

The creation of a unified ASEAN bloc that allows for free flow of goods, services and investment across the region is crucial to ensure the region is not left behind amid China and India's rise as Asia's new powerhouses, Wong said. The plans do not call for a common currency.

The bloc must no longer merely function as a middleman but seek to position the region of 550 million people as an integral part of Asia's manufacturing, trading and logistics network, he said.

"ASEAN has set itself the goal of establishing an ASEAN Economic Community that will form a single production zone," he said.

"ASEAN Economic Ministers will be recommending to the leaders to advance the original target date of 2020 to 2015 at the ASEAN summit in December," he said.

Wong said investment house Morgan Stanley has predicted that China's purchasing power could surpass that of the US, and India may overtake Japan within a decade.

"The Chinese and Indian winds of growth can propel the sails of Singapore and Southeast Asian economies. This is provided we build up an ASEAN ship that is integrated, cohesive and strong," Wong said.

Despite practical difficulties in fusing their diverse economies, he said ASEAN must find synergies for cooperation.

"If ASEAN plays its cards right, it will be an important actor in the Asian century story," Wong said.

ASEAN is already negotiating free trade pacts with China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Wong urged the region to boost engagement with Middle East countries flushed with petrodollars and seeking to diversify and modernize their economies, saying there were vast business opportunities in utilities, construction, property and transport sectors.

ASEAN'S 10 members are Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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