This Special joint Ministerial Meeting (SJMM), an unprecedented event in the history of ASEAN cooperation, has been held at a time when ASEAN is showing encouraging signs of economic recovery. This economic recovery was attributed basically to the combination of fiscal, monetary and structural reforms, which were collectively and individually introduced by the Member Countries. It is the same recovery which now prompts prime movers in the region to assess the initiatives so far implemented and redefine goals that would lead to sustained economic resurgence and gear ASEAN up for global competition. This fusion of three (3) important sectoral Ministers in the region provides a timely opportunity for ASEAN to start working towards this end.

As Chair of the Informal AEM Meeting, I was tasked to report the highlights of last night’s meeting, as follows:

  1. AEM noted an ASEAN Secretariat paper which provides an ASEAN economic outlook, the possible social concerns, and challenges and the policy responses the Member Countries have to implement.
  2. AEM endorsed the topics proposed to be discussed at the Leaders’ meeting without prejudice to the fact that this could merely serve as indicative topics for the Leaders’ consideration.
  3. AEM endorsed a framework for the ASEAN and the Terms of Reference of the Task Force proposed by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Roberto Romulo, head of the public-private sector task force. As to the budget of the Task Force, I am pleased to report that the SJMM has just approved an initial seed money of US$ 100,000 to be derived from the ASEAN Fund.
  4. AEM proposed that the Joint Statement on East Asia go beyond issues of institutionalization and instead give emphasis on a mechanism important to the effective and efficient implementation of programs in areas such as political and security cooperation, monetary and financial cooperation, economic cooperation, social and human resource development, scientific and technical development, etc. On economic cooperation, the SJMM noted AEM’s full support in promoting broader private sector participation which includes the establishment of an East Asia Business Council.
  5. AEM discussed, as length the implications of China’s entry in the World Trading Organization (WTO).

The threats and opportunities arising from the entry of China into the multilateral trading system magnifies the need for ASEAN to embark on a global competitiveness, regime to allow the region to compete with China.

The sectoral Ministers, agreed the at the question of recovery can be approached two ways: i) through domestic fiscal stimuli; and ii) by enhancing, external relationship especially with export markets. They emphasized the need for ASEAN to reaffirm its own commitment to liberalization; actively pursue the Bold Measures adopted in Hanoi in December last year on the occasion of the 6th ASEAN Summit and cooperate for the economic revitalization of Indonesia being the largest economy in the region. The Ministers like wise stressed the importance of human resource development (HRD) as a key to maintaining ASEAN’s competitiveness and as a means for ASEAN to survive internal and external challenges.

Finally, the Meeting encouraged the Economic and Finance Ministers continue with their own initiatives in pursuing cooperation efforts with China, Korea and Japan.