The Asean Economic Community is finally a reality
This publication has been writing about the emergence of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) since August 2012. Forty months later, as you read this, the AEC has been officially inaugurated. Yes, it was delayed from a previous start date of 1 January 2015 to 31 December, and there was serious talk it might be delayed even further, but the Asian need to ‘save face’ probably kicked into gear, and so its launch took place right on schedule.
As a May 2015 report on the Asean travel news site TR Weekly noted, ‘many of the components of [the] AEC may not be up and running by the deadline. It will be more of a rolling start with some components taking off at the sound of the starting pistol, while others will cross the starting line at a later stage in 2016.’
Of course, this was really always going to be the case. After all, the European Common Market was hardly a fully-formed economic package when it started, so anybody foolish enough to think the AEC would somehow be different and emerge ready-made and focused must surely have been living in a parallel universe.
With the official launch now completed, there is likely to be a period where the urgency of completing certain protocols within a tightened deadline drops off, and it may be that a year from now we’ll be decrying the slow pace of implementation of many expected and anticipated economic reforms across the Southeast Asian region.
It’s worth remembering that the initial plan to create the AEC had set 2020 as the start date. So, to be fair, the AEC is five years ahead of what was envisaged nearly two decades ago.
The AEC as a grouping does possess a significant competitive advantage when compared with much of the rest of the world in that in most Asean countries the population is relatively young when compared with Europe, China, Japan and South Korea.
In mid November, the 27th ASEAN Summit took place in Kuala Lumpur. A gushing press release quoted the Secretary-General of ASEAN, Vietnam’s Le Luong Minh as saying, “Through the collective will and strong commitment of all Member States, with the launch of the ASEAN Community, ASEAN will become a full-fledged politically cohesive, economically integrated, socially responsible Community.” He added that “With a sense of belonging and identity among its citizens, the ASEAN Community has contributed significantly to the peace and stability in the region, towards greater regional prosperity that will ensure that all ASEAN peoples and the broader global community will have more opportunities and reap the benefits of ASEAN integration.”
They are lofty ideals, and with its official inception, now the real work begins.