MANADO, 10 AUGUST 2011 – The Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia, H.E. Prof Dr Boediono opened the 43rd ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting and Related Meetings here today. The Meetings will run from today until Sunday, August 14 in Manado, North Sulawesi.

Before he declared open the Meetings, he urged the audience to look West and East as reminders to maintain ASEAN’s resiliency in troubled times. He cited the US debt ceiling and downgrade of sovereign rating and reminded them that “it is evident that the US and Europe could no longer be the main engines of growth of the world economy.” He also reminded that “ASEAN is faced with a large and increasingly powerful Chinese economy in the North, and a huge Indian economy in the West is also making rapid progress.”

The Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan echoed the Vice President’s observations. He said that ASEAN has just turned 44 years old on Monday, and the anniversary serves as a reminder to review its work, and to do that in the context of the ever-changing global economic developments. “2015 is not too far away. We need to ensure that we are able to steer and keep on track towards achieving our commitments.”

At 234 million people, ASEAN’s largest economy by population, Indonesia plays host this week to the Economic Meetings in Manado, a city in North Sulawesi. The Governor of North Sulawesi, H.E. Dr Sinyo Harry Sarundajang also took the stage to welcome H.E. Prof Dr Boediono and the audience to Manado, and said his city and his people are honoured to be chosen as the venue for such important Meetings.

Given that Indonesia is the Chair of ASEAN this year, this week’s Meetings will be chaired by its Minister of Trade, H.E. Mari Elka Pangestu.

She said the beautiful city was chosen to showcase Indonesia’s geographical spread and also because many of this week’s participants have yet to experience the beauty of Manado. “Despite Manado’s close geographical proximity to the Philippines, many of you have not been here before today. Clearly, there are more to be done in the connectivity of this region,” she said.

This year’s Meetings are the firsts since the ASEAN Leaders adopted the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity at the 18th ASEAN Summit in Ha Noi, Viet Nam on 28 October last year. For the last two days, Senior Economic Officials and their Ministers have been preparing for this week’s Meetings, in anticipation of today’s opening ceremony and series of Meetings to come.

The ASEAN Economic Ministers, as these Ministers are collectively called at ASEAN level, gather to continue their work on building the time-bound ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by its target year 2015, and to discuss ways to further engage Dialogue Partners and other stakeholders in the process. They oversee the implementation of measures in the AEC Blueprint that fall under their purview, including those pertaining to trade in goods, services, and investment. The Declaration on the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint was signed by the ASEAN Leaders on 20 November 2007.

In line with Indonesia’s ASEAN Chairmanship theme “ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations”, the Ministers have outlined their economic vision for 2011 – first, to achieve significant progress in realising the ASEAN Community by 2015 which includes more emphasis on the AEC Blueprint’s third pillar – towards a region of equitable economic development – for a more inclusive Community; second, to increase the utilisation of the ASEAN+1 Free Trade Area agreements while responding to the evolving regional architecture, and identifying and implementing ASEAN initiatives that may contribute to the global community; and third; to start thinking of an ASEAN vision beyond 2015.

ASEAN has benefited from a strong economic growth of 7.4 per cent and increased commitments from its Member States. By end-July this year, ASEAN has completed 71.95 per cent of measures due under Phase I (2008-09) and Phase II (2010-11) of implementing the AEC Blueprint, as greater efforts were exerted to reach the goals of an AEC by 2015.

The AEM started in 1975 and meets annually. The last AEM Meeting and Related Meetings were held in late August last year in Da Nang, Viet Nam. Next year’s Meetings will be held in Cambodia, next year’s Chair of ASEAN. Preliminary logistical details such as the city and dates will be announced by H.E. Cham Prasidh, Senior Minister and Minister of Commerce of Cambodia.

The Ministerial Meetings today include the 25th AFTA Council Meeting and the 14th AIA Council Meeting.