The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is unlikely to meet its targeted economic integration by 2015, as individual countries still need to pursue structural reforms, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said in a new study released Thursday.

In its “Asian Economic Integration Monitor,” the Manila-based ADB said: “Merely two years away—and given all the remaining obstacles and challenges—fully achieving the AEC (ASEAN Economic Community) by the end of 2015 is highly improbable.”

The region needs to work harder on tackling barriers to trade in economically sensitive sectors such as agriculture, steel, and motor vehicles as well as reducing the non-tariff barriers that are increasingly replacing tariffs as constraints to international trade, the ADB said.

In an ambush interview, Diwa Guinigundo, who represents the Philippines in the ASEAN central bankers and finance ministers meeting, ackowledged that financial integration may have to go beyond 2015 due to slow development in some countries.

“The development varies in ASEAN nations because initial conditions some countries have to work with were different from others,” Guinigundo, who is also Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas deputy governor, said.

ADB also noted in the report that trade national initiatives are needed to liberalize in services and enacting competition policy and intellectual property rights protection – all difficult areas of reform.

Guinigundo expressed confidence that liberalization will take place. “The beauty of liberalization is you can have a larger, region-wide market,” he said.

The official, meanwhile, agreed with the ADB’s finding that ASEAN nations have made significant progress in lowering tariffs.

ADB’s report also noted the need to work beyond 2015 to increase labor mobility so that unskilled as well as skilled workers can move across borders more easily. Greater labor mobility will allow the region to reap the full benefits of all its other reforms.

It added that regional cooperation can address economic uncertainties and other cross-border challenges such as climate change, health issues, and territorial disputes.

This can be achieved notably through greater policy dialogue, stronger regional institutions, better transport links, deeper regional capital markets, and financial safety nets, the report noted. — BM, GMA News