ASEAN leaders join in a traditional handshake during closingceremonies Sunday, March 1, 2009, in Cha-am, Thailand, at the 14th ASEAN Summit. They are, left to right, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Laos’ Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh, Malayisan Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Philippines’ President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Viet Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Myanmar’s General Thein Sein, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan. Photo AP
Leaders sign agreement for an Asean community within next six years, with EU-style agreement planned by 2015
by Nguon Sovan
SOUTHEAST Asian leaders called Sunday for urgent cooperation and reform to tackle the global financial crisis, as they pushed on with their dream of forming an EU-style community by 2015.
Leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) issued a joint statement on the meltdown on the final day of a summit dominated by concerns about their export-driven economies.
In the statement, they called for “bold and urgent reform of the international financial system” to tackle the worsening crisis, while agreeing to “stand firm against protectionism”.
The leaders also signed a declaration on setting up an Asean community within the next six years. Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is also currently chairman of Asean, said the leaders “have sent a clear signal about our guidelines to solve economic problems in the region”.
But because the region is largely dependent on exports, it is at the mercy of the chaos in the rest of the world’s economies. Leaders underscored the importance and urgency of the so-called Chiang Mai initiative – a regional emergency fund set up in 2000.
Foreign ministers from Asean and from China, Japan and South Korea agreed one week ago to extend the initiative to US$120 billion.
Asean also signed a free trade deal with Australia and New Zealand Friday, and on Sunday signed an energy agreement to allow members to buy oil at a discount during crises. Splits over protectionism have also called the bloc’s unity into question.
More access needed
Cambodian Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh returned Sunday saying he had met with Thai commerce minister Pornthiva Nakasai to press for more market access.
“[Border provinces] have produced around 100,000 tonnes of cassava a year, but cassava prices have dropped sharply and we cannot sell to Thailand,” he said, blaming Thai protectionism. He applauded the trade agreement between Asean and New Zealand and Australia, but added that local quality standards must improve if Cambodia is to benefit.