The Ministers in charge of economic, commerce, trade and investment in ASEAN Member States gather in Manado, North Sulawesi this week to continue their work on building the time-bound ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by its target year 2015, and to discuss ways to further engage Dialogue Partners and other stakeholders in the process.

The ASEAN Economic Ministers, as these Ministers are collectively called at ASEAN level, oversee the implementation of measures in the AEC Blueprint that fall under their purview, including those pertaining to trade in goods, services, and investment.

Ministers and their Senior Economic Officials will arrive by today for preparatory meetings with each other before the 43rd ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) Meeting and Related Meetings open on Wednesday afternoon. Given that Indonesia is the Chair of ASEAN this year, the Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia, H.E. Boediono will launch the Opening Ceremony, while the Meetings will be chaired by the country’s Minister of Trade, Minister Mari Elka Pangestu. Coincidentally, Indonesia is the largest economy by population in ASEAN, at over 234 million people.

In line with Indonesia’s ASEAN Chairmanship theme “ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations”, the Ministers have outlined their economic vision for 2011 – first, to achieve significant progress in realising the ASEAN Community by 2015 which includes more emphasis on the AEC Blueprint’s third pillar – towards a region of equitable economic development – for a more inclusive Community; second, to increase the utilisation of the ASEAN+1 Free Trade Area agreements while responding to the evolving regional architecture, and identifying and implementing ASEAN initiatives that may contribute to the global community; and third; to start thinking of an ASEAN vision beyond 2015.

This week’s series of Meetings will begin with the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) Council Meeting, followed by the ASEAN Investment Area (AIA) Council Meeting on the same day. This would be the AFTA Council’s 25th Meeting since its establishment in 1992, and the AIA Council’s 14th Meeting since its establishment in 1998. Both Councils meet annually. The ASEAN Mekong Basin Development Cooperation (AMBDC), established in 1996, will also hold its 13th Meeting here this week.

Apart from intra-ASEAN economic cooperation, the Ministers also attached great importance to engagement with ASEAN Dialogue Partners to support ASEAN’s 600-million-people-strong integration into the global economy. During this week’s Meetings, the Ministers will have consultations with the relevant Ministries from eight of ASEAN’s ten Dialogue Partners – Australia and New Zealand (as one), China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States. So far, ASEAN has ongoing Free Trade Area agreements and economic partnerships with China, Japan, Republic of Korea, India, and Australia and New Zealand.

On Friday, the Ministers will also hold a discussion with the Plus Three – China, Japan and Republic of Korea – and the ASEAN-Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC). On Saturday, there will be an inaugural ASEAN Trade Facilitation Forum which will see business representatives from ASEAN Member States, the United States and the wider region converging for the first time to engage in a direct dialogue with the Ministers and Senior Economic Officials to discuss strategic measures to boost trade and investment in the region. The Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) will also present the findings from its ASEAN 2030 study.

ASEAN has benefited from a strong economic growth of 7.4 per cent and increased commitments from its Member States. By end-July this year, ASEAN has completed 71.95 per cent of measures due under Phase I (2008-09) and Phase II (2010-11) of implementing the AEC Blueprint, as greater efforts were exerted to reach the goals of an AEC by 2015.

This year’s Meetings also mark the firsts since the ASEAN Leaders adopted the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity at the 18th ASEAN Summit in Ha Noi, Viet Nam on 28 October last year.

The AEM started in 1975 and meets annually. The last AEM Meeting and Related Meetings were held in late August last year in Da Nang, Viet Nam. Next year’s Meetings will be held in Cambodia, next year’s Chair of ASEAN. Preliminary logistical details such as the city and dates will be announced by Cambodia’s Minister during the Meetings here this week.