Businessmen seek closer links to spur growth

ASEAN businessmen, pointing to challenges to the region’s economies in the next decade, called for greater economic integration to spur growth in Asia.

Asean Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) chairman Aburizal Bakrie said that closer integration could take the form of a “loosely united economic entity which builds on its present economic achievements.

“Such an approach recognises Asean’s regionalism and co-operation and stresses common interests while recognising the different development needs of member countries,” he told reporters after an Asean CCI meeting.

Business leaders from the nine Asean member-countries gathered here on Thursday to map out plans to stimulate the region’s economic growth.

They announced a new initiative, The Private Sector Salute To Asean forum, to be held in Kuala Lumpur in December this year before the Informal Asean Leaders’ Summit.

The two-day forum will give business leaders a chance to give their inputs to improve the current economic environment.

Mr Bakrie said that the private sector would act as a primary mover in stimulating growth and reducing the current dominance of state-run companies.

In this respect, businessmen could help governments formulate an economic vision that would position Asean well into the 21st century.

Asean, he stressed, should build upon the region’s prevailing peace and its expanded membership to enhance its global competitiveness.

He added that a more closely integrated Asean would overcome a growth slowdown that could occur when the group’s economies matured. But this did not mean moving towards a single or common market.

He said: “Achieving a single market for Asean at the present level of its development may create more problems than solutions. A common market may be unnecessary as the World Trade Organisation lowers tariff barriers on a global basis.”

Despite the projected growth in the Asean economies, Mr Bakrie said that they were likely to face a number of challenges which include:

* A more competitive global economy.

Regional trade arrangements like the North American Free Trade Agreement.

* Economies in China and South Asia capturing a larger share of the world’s trade and its flow of financial resources and foreign direct investment.

Asean CCI vice-president Iman Taufik said that increasing co-operation among Asean businesses would help member countries lower deficits.

He noted that until recently many South-east Asian nations conducted most of their trade outside the region.

In the past five years, however, inter-Asean trade had grown by 20 per cent to US$100 billion (S$148 billion), he said.

Mr Taufik said Asean expected the amount of trade between member nations to rise to US$150 billion in the next 10 years.

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