LANGKAWI, Malaysia -- ASEAN leaders discussed a new road map for strengthening regional economic cooperation at a summit Monday, aiming to kick-start a stalled integration process.
The ASEAN Economic Community aims to transform the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' 10 member countries and 600 million inhabitants into a single massive manufacturing base and market. It sets out a blueprint for facilitating the free movement of people, goods and money.
The plan has three pillars: removing all tariffs within the region, relaxing regulations on investment in the finance and services industries by other ASEAN members, and making it easier for people to move between countries. The AEC is slated to kick off at the end of this year, but members have made nearly no progress in any areas aside from tariffs.
Setting post-2015 targets was thus a topic at Monday's summit. The start of the AEC will not mark the end of discussion on deregulation, and ASEAN members will continue strengthening cooperation over the next decade.
A major point in the new plan is increased support for small and midsize enterprises. Most companies in the region are small-scale businesses, and there is deep-rooted concern that the AEC will lead to the region's more-advanced economies growing even more dominant.
The plan also calls for expanding the ASEAN Secretariat, which now has a staff of just 300 and little ability to make policy proposals. The strengthened Secretariat would check on each country's progress in opening up its economy.