Southeast Asian trade ministers have agreed to an accelerated timetable to turn their region into a European-style single market by 2015.
The 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) had originally agreed, in 2003, to the creation of an Economic Community by 2020.
However, in order to remain competitive against rapidly growing economies such as China and India, which are luring increasing amounts of foreign investment away from Southeast Asia, ASEAN economic ministers agreed on 22 August 2006 to move the target date forward to 2015.
The Economic Community would allow the free flow of goods, services and investment, but the creation of a monetary union with a single currency is not on the cards.
A spokesman for European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said that the EU fully supports this development, having experienced at first hand the benefits of closer regional integration.
Furthermore, with talks for an EU-ASEAN free trade agreement set to start in 2007, the EU is all the more eager to share its 40 years of experience. “The expanded market would take economic partnership between the two groupings to a significantly higher level,” said Thierry Rommel, head of the European Commission Delegation to Malaysia, in an interview with Malaysian News Agency Bernama.