KOTA BHARU, Malaysia (Xinhua) – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economic integration will move on with the establishment of the ASEAN Economy Community (AEC) despite challenges staying ahead, said Munir Majid, chairman of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council.

In an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Saturday, Munir said he is optimistic for ASEAN’s ambitious target of achieving closer economic integration by setting up the AEC by the end of this year.

The blueprint of the AEC was first put forward by ASEAN leaders at its 13th summit in November 2007.

At Last summit held in Myanmar, ASEAN leaders agree to formally announce the establishment of the AEC by 31 December, 2015.

However, economists and experts believe that it will be a long way to go for the ASEAN to have an effective economic community like European Union.

“I am optimistic but impatient. The potential is huge that one should grape it,” he said.

“The single market on production base formed, ASEAN, by 2030 will be the fourth largest economy in the world after EU, China, US, a huge prospects,” he said.

On the potentials of the ASEAN market, Munir said, “unlike China and Japan, where the population is aging, 50 percent of the ASEAN population are under 30, young, growing and big, therefore, there will be a consumer boom, and a lot of potential demand for business, goods, services”.

“So every potential should be enhanced, must be made to ensure that we achieve the single market and a single production base,” he added.

However, Munir admitted that there are difficulties and challenges for ASEAN to bring about greater and closer economic integration under the AEC.

He said, “duing the last decade, tariff rates among ASEAN nations have come down, however, there are lots of non-tariff barriers, a lot of non-tariff measures are existing, these are the challenges must be removed because there are many ways could stop goods coming in, there are many ways could frustrate the free trade despite the fact that the tariff rate is zero”.

Besides, he believed that there are fears among some from the ASEAN nations about the market becoming one, especially among those from the small and medium enterprises.

“Most of the enterprises in ASEAN countries like Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia are very micro, so they fear they are not strong enough to face the open market,” said Munir.

“The concerns of the small and medium enterprises must be addressed,” he said, adding that small and medium enterprises are crucial to the economy of ASEAN as in some member countries, they employ over 90 percent of the workforce.

When asked to compare the AEC with EU, Munir said, “I don’t think the AEC will come out like EU, I don’t think there will be any surrender of sovereignty among the ASEAN countries, I don’t think there will be a single currency of ASEAN.”

“It will be suicidal for ASEAN to have a single currency, because there are different economies and different fiscal policies and different economy systems,” he said.