JAKARTA – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) stands at a defining moment. Its member states are constantly being evaluated for their economic potential and desirability as a market for investments, goods, and services. At the same time, their effort to forge a community free from external intervention is shaping a new regional order based on common security and shared prosperity.
In geopolitical terms, ASEAN is well-placed to be an acceptable and equal partner to many larger, more powerful economies, such as China, India, Japan, Australia, and South Korea – a part of the world that, for the first time, is leading a global recovery. ASEAN has also contributed to building one of the most dynamic economic-integration platforms in the world, and now acts as a de facto regional hub of wider economic cooperation and integration.
Indeed, the importance of regional economic integration for global stability and security cannot be understated. The combined annual GDP of China, Japan, India, and ASEAN is $14.45 trillion, roughly equal to that of the United States, at $14.62 trillion. More importantly, East Asia’s economies are expected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.1%, compared to 3.2% in the US.
That said, the wide disparities and development gaps between ASEAN members call for a multi-track and multi-speed approach to deepening economic integration. In anticipation of worsening food and energy security concerns in the future, ASEAN has set priorities for programs that increase productivity and production, strengthen policy coordination on agricultural trade, and boost efforts to alleviate poverty.