JAKARTA (Jan 6) – ASEAN can do more to enhance economic growth and integration among the ten member countries, said the new Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong.

“Investors are not interested in single markets,” said Mr. Ong at a news conference after taking office as ASEAN Secretary-General at a ceremony today.

 “They want to look at a whole place for more economies of scale, bigger business transactions and larger profit margins.”

But Mr. Ong noted that regional economic integration can be achieved through the cooperation of the ten member states of ASEAN that have been facing domestic pressure to prevent tariff levels on selected goods from dropping further to the levels agreed upon under the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) which requires tariffs be lowered to between 0 and 5 per cent currently, and to 0 eventually by the year 2010 for the older ASEAN countries and by 2015 for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

“In the old days, everybody saw ASEAN as a good manufacturing base,” Mr.Ong explained. “Now, we have competitors competing openly and professionally for investments. So, we have to look at our own domestic industries and how they can stand against external pressure and competition.”

The Secretary-General said he aims to commission studies on the economic competitiveness of industries and their attractiveness to foreign investors, as well as conduct research on market trends.

Mr. Ong stressed the need for joint marketing of ASEAN for he noted that presently ASEAN member countries have been undertaking self-promotions instead of teaming up to promote the region as an investment destination.

“Instead of everybody promoting their little sectors, we can combine our efforts and get investors to come to Southeast Asia,” said Mr. Ong. “Tourism is one example. We can promote gateway airports to Southeast Asia through Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila. Then, we can bring tourists to other regional countries through these gateway airports. Promoting tourism within ASEAN can help to provide a roadmap for business in the tourism industry.”

Mr. Ong said ASEAN countries must place themselves on the radar scope of businessmen for them to invest in the region, especially if they wish to expand their businesses beyond their countries. He said Southeast Asia is a good supplier of raw materials for products and components and can serve as a base for the electronics industry.

The Secretary-General said the ASEAN Investment Area (AIA) is an area that has not received sufficient attention and he plans to promote more intra-ASEAN investments through regional partnerships that would pave the way towards economic integration.