ASEAN OKs Free Trade Zone by 2020; Bali Concord Seeks Creation of a Single Market of 500 - M People

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BALI, Indonesia (Via PLDT) - Leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) yesterday forged the landmark Bali Concord II aimed at transforming the region into a European-style giant free trade zone by 2020.

Under the Bali pact, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia agreed to speed up efforts to realize their collective aspirations for durable peace, stability, and shared prosperity.

The ASEAN goal is to encourage investment in the region by creating a single market and production base of 500 million people. The two other pillars of the ASEAN Concord II are the creation of a security community and the promotion of a more integrated socio-cultural community.

In promoting socio-economic development and reducing poverty, the Bali accord plans to set up a network of free trade zones across Southeast Asia and place deadlines for lowering tariffs and travel restrictions.

President Arroyo welcomed the development of an ASEAN economic community which would enhance the competitiveness of individual Southeast Asian economies as well as the entire region.

But she suggested the ASEAN to pursue projects and programs that will truly promote balanced development and narrow the development gap in the region.

"We must identify priority projects for development and fasttrack their implementation in line with our vision of an ASEAN economic community," she said during the ASEAN leaders' summit here.

The ASEAN will provide technical and development cooperation to address the development divide and accelerate the economic integration of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

By 2020, the ASEAN is aiming for an economic community, modeled on European integration of the 1960s and 1970s before the advent of the European Union.

Under the same Bali pact, the leaders also envisions an ASEAN security community that will bring political and security cooperation to a higher level to ensure that countries in the region live at peace with one another and with the world.

It will abide by the UN Charter and other principles of international law and uphold ASEAN's principles of non-interference, consensusbased decision-making, national and regional resilience, respect for national sovereignty, the renunciation of the threat or the use of force, and peaceful settlement of differences and disputes.

It is committed to strengthening national and regional capacities to counter terrorism, drug trafficking, trafficking in persons and other transnational crimes. They will also work to ensure that the region remains free of all weapons of mass destruction.

The ASEAN also wants to band togther as a social and cultural community by 2020. The blueprint plans to foster cooperation in social develppment aimed at raising the living standards of disadvantaged groups and rural population.

It will also invest more resources for basic and higher education, training, science and technology development, job creation and social protection.

Also, there will be stronger cooperation in public health, including the prevention and control of infectious diseases such AIDS and SARS, as well in addressing problems associated with population growth, unemployment, environmental degradation, and transboundary pollution and disaster management.

In the pursuit of economic development, President Arroyo urged the ASEAN to give the same attention to social and cultural cooperation to build a community that takes pride in their common identity and sense of belonging despite their cultural diversity.

"We should expand our existing programs on tourism, information dissemination, and academic and cultural exchanges to create a greater sense of awareness among our epople in our quest for a common ASEAN identity," she said. …