As ASEAN celebrates its 50th founding anniversary, 2017 marks an opportune time to reflect on what ASEAN has achieved over the past five decades and what it seeks to accomplish ahead.

Sec Ramon Lopez at ASEAN@50, KL, Malaysia
Secretary Ramon Lopez at the ASEAN@50 Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Speaking at the ASEAN@50 Conference in Kuala Lumpur on 4 August before an assembly of audience representing various stakeholders, ASEAN 2017 Economic Ministers chairman and Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said that collaboration and communication are two essential elements to keep ASEAN moving.

“The region has to focus on two Cs, Collaboration and Communication. By engaging multi-stakeholders, ASEAN develops a win-win solution in ensuring that economic opportunities will be equitably felt by all ASEAN citizens,” he said.

Since its inception in 1967, the 10-member regional organization has transformed into a global economic powerhouse, with a population of 622 million and has become one of the world’s fastest growing investment destinations.

ASEAN’s total trade increased by USD 700 billion between 2007 and 2015, with intra-ASEAN trade comprising the largest share. In 2015, ASEAN attracted USD 121 billion of FDI with intra-ASEAN constituting the largest share of inflows. .

Sec. Lopez said that ASEAN should aim to communicate its programs and priorities to the ASEAN citizens, providing them with the right platform to know how they can contribute to the region’s growth story.

“Our communication must be sustained and intensified if we want to reap the benefits of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), working towards a deeper regional integration in 2025,” he added.

The trade chief made reference to the ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together as a forward-looking roadmap to prepare the region in the next phase of evolvement, and which charts the pathway for strengthening the ASEAN Community over the next 10 years.

As one of the three pillars of the ASEAN Community, the AEC is a realization of ASEAN’s goal to have an integrated and prosperous economic region with a single market–where there is free movement of goods, services and investments.

“ASEAN’s continuing economic transformation remains an example of how regional integration and cooperation is plausible despite challenges and diversity in size, geography, political background, and culture,” the trade chief said.

AEC reflects connectedness and translates diversity into strength as ASEAN’s variety becomes a source of attraction to global investors, mindful of the region’s stake in open global markets.

According to Sec. Lopez, promoting complementation and cooperation is at the heart of ASEAN integration efforts. Closer trade and enhanced economic cooperation, combined with continued engagement with Dialogue Partners, provides the region with a solid platform to continuously bolster the region’s growth and promote complementation of domestic reforms among Member States.

ASEAN has also become a significant link to the international community because of the dynamism and the huge potential it offers to the world.

“We have engaged our major trading partners namely Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand in free trade agreements, negotiating as a single ASEAN entity rather than as individual economies discussing bilateral trade arrangements,” Sec. Lopez added.

In 2013, ASEAN initiated negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which aims to expand the current ASEAN market to a huge integrated market of 3.5 billion with its six Dialogue Partners China, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and India.

Sec. Lopez also took the opportunity to present the Philippine agenda as the current ASEAN chair. Under the inclusive, innovation-led growth theme, the country is poised to champion the development and internationalization of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) with key strategic measures to increase trade and investment, integrate MSMEs in global value chains and pursue an innovation-led economy.

“ASEAN continues to develop into a pivotal marketplace with its relatively young, growing labor force and emerging middle class,” he said, adding that ASEAN has transformed into a community of dramatic diversity and manifold opportunities.