The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) might not be as good as expected and promoted by the ten-nation bloc, as there is a stronger trade accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a Vietnamese economic expert said Friday.
The AEC is the most important pillar of the ASEAN Community, scheduled to be officially established among ten Southeast Asian countries on December 31.
The AEC is expected to bring opportunities to businesses in the ten member countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, but Pham Chi Lan is skeptical about its effectiveness.
“We expect the ASEAN Community to be strong, and are trying to promote it that way, but is it really so?” Lan questioned at a conference in Hanoi.
The event was held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to urge for actions to be taken for Vietnam to be prepared for the coming ASEAN Community, which is the realization of the vision of ASEAN leaders for the regional group to build and achieve community status by 2015.
The economist challenged the conference attendees to compare the benefits between the AEC and the TPP, a trade deal joined by the U.S. and ten other countries in the Pacific Rim.
“Which one is more beneficial for Vietnam? I think many people will choose TPP,” Lan said.
The ambitious TPP pact, reached by 12 countries including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the U.S. on October 5, aims to liberalize commerce in as much as 40 percent of the world's economy.
“I believe there will be hardly any ASEAN country that will really choose the AEC as the priority in its economic integration plan,” the economic pundit said.
“The attractiveness for economic cooperation created by China, the EU and the U.S. are much bigger than those ASEAN nations feel from each other.”
Lan concluded that these factors should be seriously considered to be able to set a “proper action plans” for Vietnam to prepare for the ASEAN Community.
‘Not a bed of roses’
Addressing the conference, Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh warned that the ASEAN Community is “not a bed of roses” because as there will be also major challenges, especially when where there is a lack of awareness and preparatory actions for the community in Vietnam.
Minh, who is also the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister, acknowledged that the ASEAN Community will help Vietnam reach more regional markets for its exports and services, while boosting foreign investment attraction.
The community will also enable Vietnam to perfect its economic institutions and optimizes the country’s position in the regional and global production chain.
However, with Vietnamese people and businesses having poor awareness of the ASEAN Community and lacking specific actions to prepare for the coming changes, Minh asserted that the challenges are no smaller.
The awareness of the ASEAN Community, as well as the chances and challenges its establishment will bring in, among the Vietnamese entrepreneurs, students and members of the public is generally low, according to surveys by Vietnam and the ASEAN Secretariat.
“The awareness [of Vietnam] is particularly poor compared to those in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia,” Minh underlined.
Another poll by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry finds out that only 40 percent of local businesses are fully aware of the impacts the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the most important pillar of the ASEAN Community.
The rate is also relatively low compared to other countries in the bloc, according to the VCCI.
Minh therefore urged that Vietnam should “start preparing specific action plans” to increase awareness among all ministries, industries and residents about the ASEAN Community because “time does not wait.”
“There must be a specific action plan to materialize the ASEAN Community in Vietnam,” the minister said.
“We have to take action to realize the ASEAN Community in Vietnam with the most positive possible spirit.”
Vietnam’s former foreign deputy minister Le Cong Phung also admitted at the conference that it takes quite a long time for Vietnamese people to improve awareness of the ASEAN Community.
“The government should prioritize preparing action plans for Vietnam’s economic development in the community,” he said.
The ASEAN Community includes a political, security and socio-cultural dimension in a region with governments of diverse forms, according to Reuters.
The launch of the ASEAN Community is considered a momentous milestone in the grouping’s history, as it marks the significant achievement of the cooperation and integration goals set by regional member countries since its inception in 1967.