BANGKOK (Xinhua) – ASEAN economic integration will expand trade and investment opportunities among the regional grouping’s members, but a full-fledged integration is not seen in the next few years, speakers at a regional conference said on Monday.
The grouping is seen most likely to achieve import tariffs cut by its own version of integration while more complicated issues such as customs procedures or investment will be more difficult to be integrated due to the diversity among its members, the speakers said.
The so-called ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is set to be launched in 2015, integrating a market of over 600 million population in Southeast Asia, or the same size of all European nations, and a combined gross domestic product of over $1.77 trillion.
“2015 is probably a very aggressive target,” said Sopon Asawanuchit, executive vice president for corporate finance at Siam Commercial Bank, at a Euromoney conference.
Sopon said cooperation in trade was easier to achieve while unifying the members’ financial system would need to create a major organizational structure comparable to that of the European Union.
Pornsil Patcharintanakul, deputy secretary general of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said tariff cut could be expected though the rate would not go down to zero percent for all items as many members keep their “sensitive” products out of the target list.
Others believed Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, the lesser developed among the grouping’s 10 members, could be seen to better integrate into the ASEAN, or the Association of South East Asian Nations, in the next few years.
“Our problem is our diversity,” said Kobsak Pootrakul, executive vice president for international banking at Bangkok Bank, at the conference titled “The 5th Annual Euromoney Thailand Investment Forum: Continued Growth in Uncertain Times.
Kobsak did not foresee the possibility of launching a single currency system in the ASEAN in the near future.
But he and others agreed that members in the ASEAN needed to integrate their economies to make them more competitive globally as each member alone is a small economy.
Speakers also saw the need of ASEAN members to learn more about each other in the grouping’s integration attempt.
Kobsak said 70 percent of Thai companies still did not understand the AEC and how they would benefit from the scheme.
He said the integration would provide opportunity for Thai businesses to invest overseas at a time when the country was facing labor shortage and the local currency’s value was rising.
Sopon agreed that as currently many Thai businesses needed to employ people from Myanmar due to lack of Thai labor, they should move their operation to the country to enjoy the cheaper wage and the abundance of resources there.
He believed that Myanmar would provide a great opportunity for foreign companies to invest for manufacturing there and, then, export products to other ASEAN members.
Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, all ASEAN members, are currently among the ten-top trade partners of Thailand.
Thailand’s trade with major industrialized nations is on the decline as they buy only a combined 30 percent of Thai goods.
The ASEAN, as a grouping, on the other hand, now buys 23 percent of Thai goods.
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