Sep 19, 2013

    S'pore 'only one ready for Asean integration'

    SINGAPORE is the only Asean member that will be completely ready for economic integration under the Asean Economic Community (AEC) by 2015, and some of the group's poorer members should be allowed to retain their economic protections, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday.

    "The poorer members of Asean are not yet ready for the AEC. Even the richer members are not really ready for the AEC. This is because their domestic policies are not similar," Tun Mahathir told a conference on Assessing Asean's Readiness by Country, held by Krungthep Turakij newspaper at a Bangkok hotel.

    Singapore is best prepared for the AEC because the city-state is a free port that has never relied on tariffs for long periods, he said. Other economies depend heavily on tariff duties, Dr Mahathir said.

    He suggested that Asean look to the crisis in the European Union as a lesson for Asean integration. "We cannot reject unity outright. On the other hand, we cannot just unite simply because the Europeans united. We need to know first why the EU has seemingly failed," he said.

    Former Asean chief Surin Pitsuwan said the association should boost trade within the group in order to realise its integration. Trade among the 10 nations accounted for only 25 per cent of their combined US$2.7 trillion (S$3.4 trillion) in international trade, he said.

    Asean members have ratified 75 per cent of agreements to form the community, but that is not enough. It needed to do more to push forward integration. The group should allow free movement of professional workers across borders, otherwise integration would not happen, he said.