Thank you Secretary Siazon.
Let me start by saying that the Economic Ministers are very much encouraged by statistics which show that the region is indeed on the path of economic recovery. The IMF and World Bank forecasts are equally promising, i.e., that ASEAN will grow by 2.6% in 1999 and that East Asia is on its way to becoming the, fastest-growing region in the year 2000.
It cannot be denied that the combination of fiscal and monetary as well as structural reforms which we introduced helped in bringing back our economies to a growth path. There may be skeptics but the AEM firmly believes that economic recovery is real although admittedly still volatile.
Thus, we cannot afford to succumb to complacency.
At yesterday’s Informal AEM Meeting, the Ministers brainstormed on what ASEAN must do to sustain this economic recovery and enhance the region’s future competitiveness as well, We extensively discussed the matter zeroing in on elements that would enable ASEAN to achieve its objective of bringing back business dynamism in the region while creating institutions that would greatly reduce ASEAN’s vulnerability to future, external shocks. This we feel, is the most practical approach for us to regain our position as one of the fastest growing regions in the world.
In behalf of my AEM colleagues, I am pleased to report to the Special Joint Ministerial Meeting (SJMM) highlights Of Our informal meeting particularly on issues which are relevant to this 3rd ASEAN Informal Summit. Our report to the SJMM basically covers 5 items:
- ASEAN Secretariat Paper on ASEAN Economic Recovery and Challenges. AEM noted the Secretariat paper which provides an ASEAN economic outlook, possible social concerns, and challenges and the policy responses that Member Countries have to implement collectively and individually. While ASEAN is on the way to recovery, it should further consolidate its efforts to sustain the recovery process. The challenge is now: for ASEAN to maintain stability in the economy and to remain vigilant to avert external and internal risks.
- Topics to be discussed at the Leaders’ Meeting. AEM supported the topics proposed to be discussed atthe Leaders’ meeting, e.g., current security issues, economic resurgence and future competitiveness, social safety nets, and future direction of ASEAN. But of course, emphasizing that at best this would merely serve ass indicative topics for their consideration.
- e-ASEAN Initiative. The lauching of the e-ASEAN as millennium initiative during the 31st AEM presents an opportune time for ASEAN to start developing and improving its competencies to survive in the global market. It was recognized then that cooperation within ASEAN should go beyond information infrastructure and that it should start moving towards the creation of a policy environment conductive for infrastructure development and e-commerce transactions and the development of a framework for the development of an e-community of ASEAN countries. Thus, the Ministers created a public-private sector task force, headed by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Roberto Romulo, to implement this decision. Yesterday, Mr. Romulo presented to the Minister a plan on how the AEM mandate would be implemented. Mr. Romulo’s presentation focused on the framework for the e-ASEAN, such as: i) that the taskforce shall be the primary advisory body to ASEAN on the development and implementation of e-ASEAN; ii) the proposed Terms of Reference for the, task force; and iii) proposed membership which shall include representatives from government and the private sector. He likewise detailed the organization including the proposed operating committees and the budget of the task force. On the last item, Mr. Romulo proposed that an initial seed money of US$ 100,000 be derived from the ASEAN Fund. This is to tell the world that ASEAN is earnest in its drive to achieve global competitiveness in this world of IT. The Ministers supported Mr. Romulo’s proposal.
- Join Statement on East Asia Cooperation We have also noted the joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation and agreed to support the programs for economic cooperation outlined in the Statement, including the proposal for an East Asia Business Council. The ministers however proposed that the, document be extensively reviewed to reflect the seriousness of ASEAN to pursue its goal for East Asia. Noting that the proposed cooperation for East Asia covers very broad areas, the Ministers proposed that the joint Statement go beyond the issue of institutionalization and that the manner of structure to implement the programs should be a matter of priority attention.
- Entry of China in the WTO. We also discussed at length the entry of China in the WTO including the opportunities as well as threats to ASEAN on this development. It is viewed that China’s entry into the WTO would in general provide predictability and stability of the trading environment with China would be bound by the same rules and opening up vast opportunities for market niches.
But at the same time, this could also mean heightened competition in Asia especially for port and foreign direct investment. The Ministers are however that the deeper economic integration initiatives achieved thus far, i.e., AFTA, AIA, AICO, services, etc., have prepared ASEAN to face such kind of competition. This is reflected by the fact that ASEAN was able to recover from a crisis only 2 years after it begun.
I would like to end my presentation and invite my AEM Colleagues to add on to the points I mentioned should they feel the need to do so.