Distinguished ASEAN Economic Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to begin by seizing this opportunity to extend a warm welcome to Indonesia to the distinguished ASEAN Economic Ministers and to all members of Delegations. I hope that Jakarta, in this month of September, would provide you with an affectionate weather for the success of this important meeting.

I believe this is a hope that would certainly be shared by all the peoples across the ASEAN countries. We all have a common wish that, out of this ASEAN Economic Ministerial Meeting, a collective determination would emerge to realize the ASEAN aspirations as it was first established. This year, ASEAN celebrates its thirty seventh anniversary. It is therefore a highly appropriate time for us to renew our commitment to these ideals. I am convinced that more than 520 million population of the ASEAN countries would place their expectation on measures and outcomes that we are to achieve through this Meeting.

ASEAN was established with a clear objective. Apart from accelerating economic growth and consolidating regional stability and peace, ASEAN was also designed for the conduct of an active and mutually assisting co-operation among its members. In this light, we must pay our utmost respect to our forefathers, who had built a very proper and truly visionary framework for the lives of our nations.

In October of last year, I have had the honour of chairing the ninth ASEAN Summit. At that historic Meeting, the ASEAN Leaders have agreed on a new strategy that would effectively alter ASEAN from an association of countries into a community of nations. Hence, they have, on that occasion, signed the Bali Concord II, which affirms the agreement to build an ASEAN community on the basis of three pillars, namely first, the ASEAN Economic Community; second, the ASEAN Security Community; and third, the ASEAN Social-Cultural Community.

Reminding ourselves of the objectives of the ASEAN inception and of the challenges that we must still confront in view of considerable changes in the lives of nations all over the world, I wish to reaffirm the importance of realizing the ASEAN Economic Community. We have agreed, through this Community, to integrate the regional economies of the ASEAN region. We have even previously agreed to realize that economic integration by 2020.

I am aware that many of us were initially doubtful about our ability to achieve that target. I do not deny that many circles in Indonesia were at first gripped with the same hesitation. However, it was the course of events that eventually made us all take definite and realistic stance. We must unite and jointly address and meet those challenges. The economic integration of the ASEAN countries must, sooner or later, be accepted as real necessity to be built.

We shall be able to overcome those barriers and difficulties. The year 2020 will be a historic one, a time when ASEAN would have become a single market with a single production basis, characterized by a freer trade flow of goods and services, and by freer flow of investment and movement of skilled labour. By the time that economic integration materializes, most of is would have concluded our terms of office. Nevertheless, let us agree today that when the time comes, we shall celebrate that historic milestone together at a given venue, or commemorate it jointly by utilizing a sophisticate technology that we would certainly have been able to design ourselves.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am grateful that the formulation of the medium and long-term programmes and activities to realize the ASEAN Economic community continues to progress forward. In this connection, I believe we share the view that in realizing such a community, the trade liberalization of goods and services as well as investment will play an important role. A number of aspects would need to be renewed or even modified altogether, including the inevitability of increasing openness and transparency of policies, be it at domestic level as well as amongst ASEAN countries.

We would need to have a broader-ranging strategy that would enable a stronger integration and co-operation in all sectors. The selection of 11 sectors of priority, where ASEAN holds a comparative advantage and competitiveness, will surely accelerate the process of that economic integration. Equipped with a clear roadmap and schedule, those sectors of priority will certainly encourage the growth and integration of the other sectors.

At the upstream sector, we really need to prepare programmes and activities for human resources development, for the capacity building and standardization of the quality of education, and for a financial policy. At the same time, we also need to immediately prepare the enhancement of infrastructures and telecommunication connections that are essential for smooth and secure electronic transactions for the integration of industrial activities and other economic fields at the downstream sector, or for the promotion of regional potentials.

I believe another important step that needs to be taken by ASEAN is providing facilitation for the professional manpower, business executives, and tourists. We must also continue to strengthen the settlement mechanism of trade disputes, accelerate the harmonization and standardization of trade facilities, and of investment procedures.

By paying careful attention to the history of the economic development and competition among Southeast Asian countries, we will come to the realization that making the economic integration into reality will indeed be a challenging task. However, above all else, if ASEAN wishes to be able to compete and play an important role in the global economy, its member would have no other choice but to be truly faithful to their agreed commitments. I would also like to affirm that, should ASEAN turn into an economic community, we would have to intensify our endeavours in pursuing an economic system that would truly be based on international standards and norms, and in applying consistent and transparent trade rules.

An economic integration should not be understood as merely building a common internal strength, while shutting the world out. On the contrary, ASEAN must remain open to the global economy. ASEAN must continue to improve its trade and economic ties with its main partners, such as India, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. I support free trade agreements concluded with important world economic players, since their main objective is to widen the market for goods produced in ASEAN, and to enable us to gain access to cheaper sources of capital goods and products. It is also against such a consideration that the closer co-operation between ASEAN and European Union, through the Trans Regional EU-ASEAN Trade Initiative (TREATI), should receive appropriate attention.

In any event, the ASEAN economic integration does not only involve regulations, but it also necessitates the commitment and political will to make it a reality. It would not suffice for ASEAN to only speak with one voice, but it must also act in unison outside of ASEAN.

We clearly need to not compare the ASEAN of today with the European Union or NAFTA in their achievements in the economic integration. Their experience also demonstrates that, even up to the present, not all of their problems have been resolved. The challenge that we must address in this Meeting is how to manage effectively such integration process, so that it runs smoothly and justly. We are all convinced that the ASEAN economic integration is crucial for the entire ASEAN community.

The realization of the ASEAN Economic Community will definitely entail a long-term process. Differences, such as imbalances of economic strengths or threats to security, remain prevalent in ASEAN. The question is: whether we would make do with this reality, and allow this great opportunity before us to lose? The whole Asia Pacific region, and nearly the whole world, are watching us. Let us not allow economic development to grow into sharper differences and hinder integration growth. Let us seek together the ways to encourage regional trade and accelerate economic integration. Let us show the world our real strength, by becoming the Economic Community that we aspire for.

Imbued with this spirit, I now declare the thirty-sixth ASEAN Economic Ministerial Meeting officially open.

I thank you.

Jakarta, 3 September 2004