Nov 17, 2012

Cambodia - ASEAN leaders can expect positive discussions

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PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: ASEAN leaders can expect their discussions in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh to be positive when they kick off their meetings on Sunday.

Foreign affairs and trade ministers have decided that ASEAN focuses on the challenges it faces and not let other issues sidetrack the grouping.

Top on the agenda of ASEAN's challenges is its economic community target of 2015 and Singapore's Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang said the grouping is progressing steadily and monitoring the progress.

Mr Lim said that the 2015 target is still on though it may not be realistic to assume that everything in the roadmap would be completed by then.

He believes achieving about 85 per cent of the targets would be good.

Mr Lim said: "We have prioritised all the actions and at the same time we have looked at new items that need to be done, because as we implement the plans, some gaps have been identified.

"We have introduced them into the plan. We are generally happy. We have decided that now that we have brought tariffs down to zero, businesses are facing non-tariff measures and non-tariff barriers. So they are now making a concerted effort to address some of these hurdles and obstacles."

One major project highlighted in the ASEAN economic roadmap, the regional comprehensive economic partnership (RCEP), will be launched by the leaders.

Ten ASEAN members, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar,
Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and their six dialogue partners namely Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand created RCEP at last year's ASEAN+6 meeting in Bali.

Mr Lim said: "The RCEP is a very major enterprise and the objective is to seek deeper regional integration and together it is a major enterprise.

"I mean if you look at the population, the 16 countries constitute almost 45 percent of world population. If you look at GDP, the 16 countries constitute nearly a third of global GDP, it's a major effort to bring all 16 countries together into a regional free trade agreement."

ASEAN's foreign ministers also had their round of meetings to finalise topics for the summit.

Singapore's Foreign Minister K Shanmugam reiterated that ASEAN does not want the South China Sea issue to become the predominant subject of discussions and everybody understood that.

He said: "It was a relatively muted discussion and I think everyone understands the need to be restrained, to make sure that we don't make the situation tense and try and talk about the issue and resolve it between the claimants."

ASEAN leaders will also endorse the grouping's Human Rights Declaration document, something which the respective country representatives have worked hard to put together.

In July, when ASEAN's foreign ministers met for their annual meeting, the grouping had taken a hit to its credibility after failing to issue a communique.

Mr Shanmugam said the current summit meetings are in a very business-like environment, with the political leaders working to take ASEAN forward.

- CNA/ir

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