YAB Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Prime Minister of Malaysia
ASEAN Economic Ministers
Secretary General of ASEAN
Ministers
Ambassadors and High Commissioners
Distinguished Guests,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome all of you to the opening ceremony of the 38th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting. I would like to especially wish my colleagues, the ASEAN Economic Ministers a very warm “Selamat Datang” to Malaysia. We are indeed honoured by the presence of the Honourable  Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Prime Minister of Malaysia this morning to officiate and deliver the keynote address at this annual meeting of the ASEAN Economic Ministers. The last time Malaysia hosted this event was in 1997, and we are indeed honoured to be the host again this year.

2. Having personally participated in these meetings since 1987, I can confidently say that ASEAN has undergone tremendous changes, and that ASEAN is actively pushing forward its Economic Agenda, particularly the ASEAN integration initiatives, both within the ASEAN region, and, on a broader level, with its Dialogue Partners, and regional neighbours.

3. ASEAN economic initiatives have enabled it to evolve, and become one of the most dynamic and competitive regions in the world.  Liberalisation initiatives have also enabled ASEAN to become a competitive production base, and to attract foreign direct investment inflows. This has helped to promote economic prosperity in the region, and realise the shared, and common, development goals. 
Ladies and Gentlemen,

4. In 1998, ASEAN set itself the objective of moving towards comprehensive economic integration, under the ASEAN VISION 2020, and the HANOI PLAN OF ACTION. Under the BALI CONCORD II of 2003, ASEAN further committed itself, to the objective of establishing the ASEAN COMMUNITY, in which the ASEAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY or the AEC, forms one of the three pillars, besides the ASEAN Security Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. The ASEAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY aims to create a single seamless regional market, and a competitive production base, which can serve the global market.

5. Developments in the world economic environment, makes it imperative for ASEAN to undertake further and necessary initiatives to deepen economic integration, as well as to strengthen linkages with other major trading partners.  

6. Over the last three years, ASEAN has embarked on efforts to forge further economic linkages with China, Japan, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand through Comprehensive Economic Partnership (CEP) and Free Trade Agreement (FTA) initiatives. Others such as EU, Russia and Pakistan have also approached ASEAN, to explore the possibility of entering into closer economic partnership arrangements.

7. The ASEAN Economic Ministers are mindful of the challenging task ahead of them, to realise the vision espoused by the ASEAN Leaders, to create the ASEAN COMMUNITY. The 38th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting will be deliberating on the necessary initiatives, to enable the region to achieve the vision of a cohesive ASEAN entity.  

8. Among the issues to be discussed, is the possibility of realising the ASEAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY even before the current timeline of 2020. In pursuing the goal of ASEAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY, the Leaders had already decided to accelerate the economic integration of 11 priority sectors, by 2010. Roadmaps for the integration of these 11 priority sectors, have been established. The Economic Ministers will strategise on the measures to build upon the foundation of the integration process which will be spearheaded by these sectors. Ministers will also explore measures for the integration of the logistics sector, which has been recognised as a key sector in ASEAN. 

9. The Economic Ministers will also identify implementation gaps, especially for those measures agreed upon under the priority integration sectors, and take appropriate steps to ensure that all decisions and measures are implemented as expected. This is imperative if ASEAN is to enhance its attractiveness as an investment location, for both domestic and foreign investors.

10. At this Kuala Lumpur Meeting, the ASEAN Economic Ministers will also discuss approaches for the liberalisation of the services sector, which is targeted to be achieved by 2015. The services sector integration has become even more critical, as there is a need to catch up with the ASEAN integration initiative that has been achieved in the goods sector, under the AFTA. Growth in the services sector is crucial to further raise the level of economic development of the region.

11. The economic challenge facing ASEAN, is to get investors to view ASEAN as a single, cohesive, economic entity, which allows for free flow of goods and services, across member countries, with little or no barriers. Enhancing competitiveness will require member countries to make adjustments to certain domestic policies and measures, which impede particular sectors from being competitive, and which constrain ASEAN from functioning as a single economic entity.

12. The deliberations with Dialogue Partners will be on the progress of the negotiations on the Free Trade Agreements and, also to examine new proposals, to further enhance collaboration. 

13. The outcome of the Ministers deliberations, will be presented to the ASEAN Leaders, at the 12th ASEAN Summit in Cebu, the Philippines in December 2006. It is hoped that this Meeting in Kuala Lumpur will further accelerate the economic integration of ASEAN, both amongst its constituent members, and between ASEAN and its Dialogue Partners.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

14.  I would like to record my appreciation to all the Senior Officials who have prepared the groundwork for these Ministerial Meetings, and who have done much to move the ASEAN Economic processes forward.

On that note, may I now have the honour to invite the Right Honourable Prime Minister to deliver his keynote address, and declare open the 38th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting.