A full regional integration in ASEAN is unlikely to happen in 2015 but it will be the start of a gradual step by step towards attaining the goal of the region to eventually integrate, said former Philippine Ambassador Rodolfo C. Severino, who was also former ASEAN Secretary General and now head of the ASEAN Studies Center of Singapore.

“Nothing is going to happen in 2015,” Severino said on whether the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will happen in 2015 or not as agreed by the ASEAN Leaders to fully integrate the region’s economy by 2015.

Severino, however, said that, “Things will develop gradually step by step and that is what we have to watch out for.”

He said that the 2015 timeline for AEC is good for ASEAN countries to be able to benchmark, “But let’s not expect that change will happen immediately.”

“2015 has a lot to do of what’s going on in each country,” he said noting that a country’s political leadership should get a critical mass or a great majority of people to benefit from it to get support for such economic integration.

He noted that some timelines in the ASEAN agreements have been set by leaders knowing that these cannot be met.

“But it is laudable that we set deadlines because it sets our direction although the implementation largely depends on each individual member states,” he said.

Severino, however, stressed the importance of regional integration stressing that economic benefits are going to flow into an integrated region. Foremost is on attracting investments.

“Greater integration within regions is happening in order to attract investments to a huge market, create more jobs, greater efficiency and lower transaction cost and lower prices for consumers,” he said.

Economic integration is also expected to usher in a higher level of transparency, consistency of laws where policies are uniformly enforced and the rule of law.

“Without these, investments will go elsewhere and economies remain uncompetitive,” he said. These factors, he added, must be complemented with the right infrastructure and workforce.

If the workforce in an economy is not properly utilized, he warned, they will also go elsewhere as what happened to the Philippines, which has millions of its skilled workers getting employment abroad for better pay and better opportunities.

In the case of the Philippines, Severino said it is should look at what is good for the country and protect its national interest and from there act accordingly. –Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat, Rodolfo C. Severino, Manila Bulletin