ASEAN vows to accelerate economic integration efforts

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (MindaNews/4 Apr) – Southeast Asian leaders agreed to accelerate the ongoing integration initiatives in five of the area’s sub-regional groupings as they vowed to “redouble” the efforts towards the establishment of a single economic community in the region by the year 2015.

In its five-page declaration adopted during its 20th summit here on Tuesday, the leaders and heads of states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) vowed to provide the necessary support to further build up its five sub-regional growth areas, which includes the resurging Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

BIMP-EAGA comprises the entire sultanate of Brunei Darussalam; the provinces of East and West Kalimantan, North Sulawesi, Kalimantan, Maluku island chain and Irian Jaya in Eastern Indonesia; the federal states of Sabah and Sarawak and the federal territory of Labuan in Eastern Malaysia; and, the islands of Mindanao and Palawan in the Philippines.

The region’s other sub-regional groupings are the Greater Mekong Sub-Region Economic Cooperation, Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle, Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy and the Cambodia-Lao-Viet Nam Development Triangle.

“(We) do hereby agree to continue to support the initiative for ASEAN integration as well as other sub-regional growth areas…that would bridge the development gap within ASEAN,” the leaders noted in its 32-point “Phnom Penh Declaration on ASEAN: One Community, One Destiny.”

The declaration was signed by the region’s 10 heads of states, including President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.

As support to the sub-regional economic integration efforts, the leaders agreed to “operationalize and utilize fully the ASEAN Infrastructure Fund (AIF) to further improve physical connectivity and narrow the infrastructure development gap in ASEAN.”

In an earlier meeting here, ASEAN’s finance ministers initially set the formal launching in May of the AIF, which is a US$4-billion financing project that may be accessed by member countries through the year 2020.

The fund, which was announced last year, was started with an initial equity contribution of $485.2 million, with $335.2 million coming from nine ASEAN members and the remaining $150 million provided by Asian Development Bank (ADB).

In a press conference at the Peace Palace here on Tuesday afternoon, ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said they will utilize the AIF to jumpstart the implementation of priority projects identified under a regional master plan on connectivity.

The master plan mainly sets the necessary physical infrastructure and institutional arrangements to facilitate interconnectivity within ASEAN via its sub-regional groupings.

“These (projects) will facilitate cross border movements within ASEAN that is very vital in our economic integration and community building efforts,” he said.

Among the identified priority projects in the connectivity master plan were the completion of the ASEAN highway network, missing links and upgrade of transit transport routes and the establishment of a the Roll-On/Roll-Off (RoRo) and short-sea shipping network within the region, which covers the BIMP-EAGA.

In 2010, the ADB rolled out an initial US$1-billion infrastructure grant to fund the identified priority road networks within the sub-region that were part of the ASEAN highway network.

According to ADB, the project’s Philippines component, which has a total allocation of some US$101 million, covers the first and second phases of the Mindanao ports expansion program, Palawan ports development program and the rehabilitation of the Davao-General Santos road. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)