Has the AEC overlooked the importance of cities?
A recent article dealing with the AEC questioned why the various agencies and organisations charged with overseeing its eventual implementation appeared not to have taken into account the importance of the key cities which will make up the trading bloc.
Consider the following substantive facts. The major cities within ASEAN generate an estimated 80 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the trading bloc. As well, some of the emerging urban centres are expected to provide around 40 percent of global growth over the next decade or so.
Equally, cities and large urban conurbations are growing substantially as more and more people move from rural communities to seek what they believe is a better economic life in urban areas. The five dominant mega-urban regions in ASEAN are Java (centering on Jakarta), Manila, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok. Between them they hold close to 66 percent of the entire population of the region.
Elsewhere, figures show Laos is urbanizing at 5.6 percent per annum, ahead of Cambodia at 4.6 percent, Myanmar at 3.9 percent and Indonesia at 3.3 percent.
Admittedly, Thailand is urbanizing at a slower rate, but then Bangkok is already a massive megalopolis. Some major regional centres have experienced substantial growth patterns in recent years, especially along the expected trading lines which will stretch across Thailand to link up with Vietnam and into China.
Much urbanization is unplanned, or under-planned. This leads to traffic congestion, pollution, and poor basic services.
Although, as recent studies appear to show, the AEC blueprint will not be fully implemented come the end of 2015, there is almost no doubt those elements left to be completed will eventually be integrated. According to the Asian Development Bank, as at October last year, ASEAN member countries had completed 67 percent of the AEC projects as set out in the blueprint.
Unfortunately, as this recent article noted, there is no direct mention of cities and urban development. Infrastructure is covered, of course, but only as a whole of project factor. Equally, while there is a working group covering rural development, there is nothing devoted specifically to urban development. As the article notes, ‘poverty is an increasingly an urban affair, and cities just matter more: economically,
socially and environmentally.’
By way of contrast, the European Union (EU) had also failed to consider the specific subject of urban development, but in the past decade or so has sought to redress this. Nonetheless, it was only in 2011 that the EU formalized a proper urban policy.
Given the arguably even greater importance of urban areas within the AEC vis-à-vis the EU, it may well be a sensible idea for those at the helm of AEC policy to look closely at what the EU has and is doing, and extrapolate this for 2015 and beyond.