Is the AEC going to happen this year?
In 2012 the official launch of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) was put back by 364 days, from 1 January to 31 December 2015. At the time, the Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan claimed there would be no more delays to the launch of the AEC. Yet, a report released by the United States Chamber of Commerce in mid-2014 and entitled ‘ASEAN Business Outlook Survey 2015’ has cast some doubts as to whether the AEC will indeed become a reality on 31 December this year.
The survey found most respondents were less than sanguine about not only an end of 2015 launch, but some even doubted whether the economic union could really be achieved before 2020.
Admittedly, 2020 was the original end-date target when Asean leaders signed the Declaration of ASEAN Concord II in 2003. This followed on from the 1997 release of the ASEAN Vision 2020 paper, which outlined the future direction of the-then 30-year-old regional organization.
The Cebu Declaration of 2007 brought the start date for the AEC back to the beginning of 2015, a decision that many within the regional framework are probably now regretting.
In order to assess progress across the 10 member states as they move towards this ‘date with destiny’, the AEC Scorecard, modeled on the European Union (EU) Internal Market Scorecard, was set up. Only two scorecards have ever been published, the first in 2010, the second in 2012.
The second of these, obviously, is the most important in terms of assessing whether the AEC is on track for an end of 2015 kick-off. It claimed no less than 187 of the 277 measures which needed to be in place for the start had been completed by the end of 2011. That’s a little over 67 percent of the key measures allegedly done and dusted.
With a full four years available to them to implement the remaining 33 percent of measures, it’s hard to believe that such a level of pessimism still remains about the 31 December start date.
One of the key areas of concern, it is being suggested, is the small size and limited budget of the Asean Secretariat. According to reports, the Secretariat consists of around 300 employees (as at 2012) and its budget for 2013 stood at a mere US$16 million. It is claimed entry-level salaries are around US$700 per week. That in itself is a pretty good wage compared to most people toiling away in the 10 Asean nations, but, by comparison, the Asian Development Bank salaries usually start at a little over US$1,400 per week.
Given that the Secretariat is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the AEC it’s not hard to realize that this body probably lacks depth in terms of quality, let alone quantity, in staffing.
(continued next month)