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ASEAN 2030: Toward a Borderless Economic Community

Despite the Asian financial crisis of 1997/98, over the last 15 years the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have seen their gross domestic products rise, poverty incidence decrease, and social indicators improve. Recent internal evolution and reform has helped to strengthen ASEAN as an institution. The ASEAN Charter was introduced in 2007 and the Secretariat is being built up. A plan for creating an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) was introduced in 2003. By 2015 ASEAN will have a single market and production base with free flow of goods, services, capital and skilled labor.

The AEC establishment in 2015 will be a great achievement. However, it is only a start. This study looks beyond the AEC and discusses how ASEAN should move toward a truly borderless economic community by 2030. As Western economies slowdown while the People's Republic of China and India increase their competitive pressures, the study suggests that ASEAN stands at a crossroads. One road leads to achieving a RICH region, where member countries can triple per capita incomes by 2030 and raise the quality of life of their citizens to levels enjoyed by OECD countries today. Another road, however, leads ASEAN to losing its centrality if policy makers fail to seize the momentum. GDP growth could slow down to no more than 3% per year—half its potential—and countries could fall into the middle income trap. Under this scenario, ASEAN could collectively fail to manage natural disasters and climate change. Eventually, unresolved security, political, and social tensions could rise dramatically. Potentially, ASEAN has a great future, but it will only be realized if the correct policy decisions are made.

The key study findings are:

  • ASEAN aspires to become Resilient, Inclusive, Competitive, and Harmonious—a RICH region that will underpin Asian prosperity. To become 'RICH', ASEAN faces four major challenges:
    • Managing macroeconomic and financial stability
    • Promoting economic convergence and equitable growth
    • Forging a competitive and innovative region
    • Nurturing natural resources and sustaining the environment
  • In response to these major challenges, ASEAN policymakers need to adopt deep structural reforms of their domestic economies and boost regional cooperation, including substantially strengthening the ASEAN Secretariat.
  • Following the creation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, ASEAN members need to build a truly borderless economic region by 2030 by eliminating remaining barriers to the free flow of goods, services, and factors of production, and by branding ASEAN through harmonization and further institution-building.
  • There is little appetite in ASEAN to form an economic union involving a high level of national sovereignty to be surrendered to regional institutions like the European Union, but a full range of other activities are needed to bolster regional integration.
  • If policymakers are unable to take bold action, ASEAN economies could lose their competitive edge and centrality in Asia's economic and institutional architecture.
  • ASEAN countries must think globally, plan regionally, and act nationally.

This study is a collective effort led by ADBI in collaboration with the ASEAN Secretariat and Asian Development Bank.

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Key Events

June 2012

ADBI Seminar – Changing Myanmar: Challenges and Opportunities. ADBI, Tokyo.

June 2012

Supporting Equitable Economic Development in ASEAN: Experts Meeting of the thematic area on 'Agricultural Productivity and Natural Resources Management'. ADBI, Tokyo.

December 2011

ASEAN 2030: Report Finalization Workshop. EDSA Shangri-la Hotel, Ortigas Center, Manila.

September 2011

ASEAN 2030: Report Finalization Workshop. ADBI, Tokyo.

July 2011

ASEAN 2030: Growing Together for Shared Prosperity Conference: ASEAN 2030 – Preparing the Report. Sheraton Hotel, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

June 2011

ASEAN 2030: Growing Together for Shared Prosperity Workshop on National and Regional Development Issues. Hotel Le Meridien, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

February 2011

ASEAN 2030: Growing Together for Shared Prosperity. American University, Washington DC.

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