MANILA: Asean, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, has evolved into a regional grouping immensely benefitting member countries, including Malaysia from expanded economic growth to leveraging on the potential of its combined population size and enhanced connectivity on all fronts.
Its success is all the more meaningful for Malaysia since its formation in 1967 as then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak was among its founding fathers who laid the foundation for what is surely now is the most successful inter-governmental organisation in the developing world.
Its unity and collective voice has not gone unnoticed as other regional groupings from the US, Europe to China, India, Japan to Australia and New Zealand continue to seek closer linkages with Asean which they recognise is undoubtedly an integral part of the international community.
“As a region, we have a stronger voice compared with a country. A collective opinion and unified standing on issues relating to the region and global goes a long way,” said a senior Asean official.
That doesn’t come easy for member countries who had vastly different political ideologies and economic systems initially. “It is the relations built on trust and mutual understanding over the last 50 years.”
“It was not built overnight, the annual meetings and interaction of heads of governments, ministers and senior officials are to be credited to,” said the official who requested anonymity.
Besides Malaysia, the other founding members of the regional group include Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
“You can’t put value to trust, respect and mutual understanding but they carry a lot of weight,” he said, adding that, “There are issues that can be solved just with a phone call.”
However, such solutions are impossible if the leaders did not have closer ties.
When it comes to economic benefits, between 1975 and 2014, the Asean economy multiplied 28 times, from US$87.2 billion to a staggering US$2.5 trillion.
Asean’s growth prospects averaged at 5.4 per cent.
The region’s economies are growing faster than most of the rest of the world, and it is expected that by 2050 the Asean economy will amount to over US$9.2 trillion, making it the fourth largest in the world.
For Malaysia, trade with Asean stood at US$97.07 billion last year, an 580.5 per cent increase from US$14.26 billion in 1990.
Asean’s investment in Malaysia as at 2015 was US$6.96 billion from US$5.75 billion in 2008.
International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said it was the closer integration among Asean members that enabled intra-trade among the region to account for about 25 per cent now, as well as invest in each other’s economies.
“There are Malaysian companies in this country and companies from the Philippines investing in Malaysia. All these things are made possible by closer Asean integration,” he said in Manila.
Mustapa, Foreign Minister Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan joined Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in attending the 30th Asean summit and ministerial meetings.
The Asean official also said that integration and closer ties were nevertheless work in progress. “There is a still a lot of work to be done.”
For instance, the region’s economy could be a lot bigger if member countries work harder to bring down the tariffs to zero and most importantly address the issue of non-tariff barriers and measures (NTBs and NTMs).
Najib pointed this out in Manila when he said that between 2000 and 2015, NTBs and NTMs in Asean rose from 1,634 measures to 5,975.
“For Asean to reach the targeted economic value of US$9.2 trillion (RM40 trillion by 2050), the NTBs and NTMs have to be reduced by 50 per cent,” Najib said.
While economic growth, good infrastructure and connectivity matter, one should not forget that it all boils down to benefitting Asean’s 625 million population, which means all the region’s initiatives should be people-centered.
Asean should bear in mind, particularly as they celebrate the 50th anniversary, the need to raise awareness about Asean and to make it feels real, relevant and tangible to all our citizens.
As Najib aptly said, “For our community to be real, it must be something that is part of the people’s lives. It must be something that touches their hearts.”
Asean must be seen as a source of cohesion, solidarity, support, unity, friendship and strength.
In so many ways, Asean has been exactly that, the Prime Minister said.
“But the bonds between our countries and our peoples need to be more evident for our citizens to feel that is what our association is.”
Hence, the Prime Minister said the region has to keep pushing its limits on the economic front and at the same time keep it real and closer to its people. — Bernama
Source: Borneo Post Online