VIENTIANE: History has shown that single market and economic cooperation are ideas worth fighting for despite the continuing debates on the future extent of wider European integration, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
The Prime Minister said as South-East Asian nations work towards a single market with the setting up of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, its ambition and resolve should be strengthened by the knowledge that a single market could bring growth, influence and opportunity.
“Properly designed, the AEC can build on the successes of the European project while learning from its failings.
“My hope is that over the coming decades, the people of South-East Asia enjoy democracy, prosperity and peace that greater economic cooperation can bring,” he said in an editorial published by Vientiane Times in conjunction with the 9th Asia-Europe Summit.
Najib said it was necessary for Europe to have political union and workable governance after having monetary union, stressing that far from being toxic, economic cooperation could be a powerful driver of competitiveness and growth, pointing out that the European single market remained a unique accomplishment.
“In 2015, our own single market will come into effect. It is a chance for us to restate the case for economic cooperation across borders. Of course, Asia is not Europe. Our implementation of a single market will necessarily differ, but fundamental principles behind free trade are the same wherever you are in the world,” he said.
He added that like all single markets, the AEC aimed to boost trade among member countries, reduce barriers such as tariffs, harmonise rules and enhance regional competitiveness to provide a fertile ground for Asean firms to expand and flourish into global corporations.
“Just as the European project helped some of its smaller nations develop into mature democracies, AEC can strengthen institutions and promote good governance. Just as democracies rarely go to war with each other, single markets can also bring a peace dividend,” he said.
Najib said geopolitical strength was another compelling argument for closer economic cooperation where the world was shifting from a hegemonic era to a multipolar system with new power centres such as China, India and Brazil vying for influence.
Asean, he said, would need to work harder to be heard and a single market would further strengthen its hand in international negotiations and give the regional grouping an opportunity to advance collective positions.
The Prime Minister said AEC would be a platform to increase opportunities for the people, where free movement of skilled labour and the opening up new prospects for Asean's 600 million people would make regional economies stronger and their businesses more competitive.
“It will also help more of our citizens realise their ambitions, as a new frontier of opportunity stretches out before them,” he said.
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