Seamless economic integration and connected ASEAN is good for all

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"In the face of mounting pressures on the open and rules-based multilateral trading system, and the regional integration and economic cooperation that have underpinned ASEAN's growth, I am heartened that the ASEAN Member States have responded by reaffirming the importance of deepening economic integration." - Chan Chun Sing.
AUGUST 29, 2018 - 11:50 AM

ASEAN is a significant market with enormous potential for economic growth. For the South-east Asian region to remain an attractive business destination, we must deepen economic integration so that the world sees ASEAN as a single market.

ASEAN is the sixth largest economy in the world with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$2.55 trillion and a collective market of more than 600 million consumers.

The region enjoys healthy economic growth supported by a fast-growing population, rapid urbanisation and growing infrastructure spend. Some projections place ASEAN as the fourth largest economy by 2030. This means that there is enormous potential in the region for both our businesses and our people.

ASEAN's robust economic performance is built upon our vision of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Our vision for regional economic integration and connections with global partners, as laid out in the AEC Blueprints 2015 and 2025, have played an integral role in ASEAN expanding its economic space.

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The AEC has created a relatively seamless business operating environment by reducing trade barriers, enhancing market access, improving trade rules and creating more opportunities for our businesses and people.

Singapore's Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2018 comes at an important juncture.

When we started our ASEAN Chairmanship in the beginning of the year, we chose Resilience and Innovation as the theme for our Chairmanship.

The theme of our Chairmanship has proven to be especially significant as we look at the global developments over the past months.

Uneven gains from globalisation have been exploited, resulting in protectionism and inward-looking sentiments that challenge the value of international platforms such as ASEAN.

In the face of mounting pressures on the open and rules-based multilateral trading system, and the regional integration and economic cooperation that have underpinned ASEAN's growth, I am heartened that the ASEAN Member States have responded by reaffirming the importance of deepening economic integration.

We have also made good progress in our negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and hope that we will be able to reach a substantial agreement soon. This will be a major boost for free trade.

The economic objectives for our Chairmanship this year have focused on deepening regional connectivity to position ASEAN as the region for increasingly seamless economic activity and growing opportunities.

The ASEAN Member States are aware that it is important to build a compelling vision for innovation and the digital economy. Digitalisation will allow our businesses to overcome geographical and physical limitations to reach new markets and customers.

Some estimate that the ASEAN digital economy has the potential to grow to US$200 billion by 2025, with e-commerce accounting for US$88 billion.

This is the reason we sought to advance an e-commerce agreement which will streamline rules governing e-commerce and help our businesses better navigate the regulations across ASEAN countries and lower operating barriers to entry. This will also allow entrepreneurs, startups and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises to market their products and services regionally.

Electronic payments will be made easier with a common platform.

Singapore has built on the efforts of past ASEAN Chairs to work on economic deliverables that help businesses stay competitive, improve trade facilitation with all ASEAN Member States, deepen the integration of our services and investment markets and progress ASEAN's relations with its external partners.

We have made good progress on several of them. One key initiative is the ASEAN Single Window which will facilitate the seamless trade and movement of goods within ASEAN by expediting cargo clearance and cutting down on paperwork. This will reduce the cost of compliance and make it easier for traders to export and import within the region.

The deliverables that Singapore is pursuing through our ASEAN Chairmanship in 2018 have the potential to bring about real and tangible benefits to our businesses and citizens.

We believe these initiatives will strengthen ASEAN's value proposition globally, and position us for future growth.

We will continue to work with all like-minded partners to build a more economically integrated and prosperous ASEAN. A resilient and innovative ASEAN that can adapt and thrive regardless of changes to the global environment.

  • Mr Chan is Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry