Asean member countries can achieve the bulk of the readiness for the formation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed (pic) said.

“In terms of readiness, we will not achieve 100 per cent, but the most of it will be achieved,” he told reporters after concluding his three-day visit to Thailand to promote bilateral trade and investment between Malaysia and Thailand.

Last week, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that except for Singapore, Asean countries were not ready for integration and poorer members should be allowed to retain economic protections.

“Even richer members are not really ready for AEC,” Dr Mahathir was quoted by a Thailand English daily ‘The Nation’, adding that Malaysia was second in terms of readiness after Singapore.

On Asean countries’ preparedness to reduce tariffs, Mustapa said that it was almost completed and would be ready by 2015, whilst the readiness for non-tariff barriers, Asean countries have started to hold discussions to lower tariffs.

He said barriers in the form of non-tariffs existed because although the market was open, there were still sensitive goods for Asean member nations such as rice and alcohol.

“Non-tariff barriers for liquor are to preserve the sensitivities in the Islamic nations in the 10-member regional grouping,” the minister said.

In terms of services, Mustapa said Asean countries have opened the market for service-oriented companies from any Asean country to invest in an Asean member state.

In terms of connectivity, air and road links and shipping services were getting better.

“In 2015, we want goods from Asean countries to move swiftly. We also want to use the same standard in Asean countries.

“The inherent benefits are increased intra-Asean trade and investment among Asean nations to boost their economic performance and turn Asean countries into a better destination for foreign direct investments (FDIs).”

Last year, Asean countries wooed US$110 billion (RM352 billion) in FDIs reported Bernama.

Mustapa said big companies knew about the AEC but awareness programmes still needed to be increased especially for small and medium enterprises and people living in rural areas.

Mustapa said his ministry’s main challenge was to manage globalisation so that the country would not be seriously affected.

“Managing globalisation to protect the nation’s interests is not an easy task.

“We, as an open nation, want foreigners to come to Malaysia for medical treatment, tourism and tertiary education, but the foreigners coming to study in Malaysia should not spoil Malaysians, foreigners coming to visit Malaysia should not damage our environment,” he added. – Bernama, September 24, 2013.