Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is optimistic about the success of ASEAN integration by 2015

SINGAPORE – ASEAN integration by 2015? Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is optimisitic.

Speaking at the Forbes Global CEO Conference on Tuesday, October 28, Lee said Southeast Asia is “trying to get our act together,” but added, it is getting closer and closer to achieving an ASEAN community.

Lee admitted, however, that the final stretch is the most challenging.

“I think we have an ambitious road map, we’ve made 80% already, the last 20% will be the hardest part,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a lot more left to be done even after we have become a community, but we will make progress and we’re heading in the right direction.”

The leader of one of the region’s most successful economies said the focus of the region’s integration is largely on the economic community, which would bring about free trade and growth as well as added services, which he said, would translate to better rules for investments, as well as rationalization of regulations and civil aviations that would bring about better connectivity.

“As ASEAN integrates economies, there will be more prosperity for all,” he said.

Lee acknowledged that each country still has its own challenges to deal with however, citing Indonesia’s new government, Thailand’s military rule, and Myanmar’s attempt at a democratic transformation. And while he was upbeat in saying “we are gradually making progress together,” he also emphasized how imperative it is for countries to address their respective challenges for ASEAN integration to become a reality.

“Of course it is incumbent on us that within our own countries we fix our challenges too,” he said. “Because other people cannot solve these problems for us, it is incumbent on us to fix our own problems so we can prosper together.”

By end of 2015, the ASEAN economic community (AEC), a common market and production base, will take shape in 10 ASEAN member states, including the Philippines.

A joint study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) shows that if done properly, the integration will bring forth freer flow of goods, services, investment. Skilled labor will impact the region’s economy, including jobs, skills, wages, and labor mobility.

Single currency?

Asked whether he foresees a single currency for the region, Lee was quick to point out the differences between ASEAN and the European Union to emphasize what he feels is a small likelihood.

“They had other reasons for doing it. In Asia, these conditions don’t arise, they don’t exist. We don’t have that same congruence of system, integration of economies, similar basis even for economic policy,” he said.

“[We’re] not like the European Union which aims for a single market, a single community in all respects. Even the Europeans don’t view [themselves] as single in all respects. So I think we have a realistic and ambitious target.”

He also pointed out that the two real options for a single currency would either be China or Japan’s currencies, which again, highlighted its unlikelihood.

“For integrating economies, if you will have single currency, the simple question is, will it be based on the renminbi or will it be based on the yen?” –