Financial Crisis to Test ASEAN Leaders

Article excerpt

BANGKOK, Feb. 26 (AFP) - Southeast Asian leaders are to seek ways of insulating their export-driven economies from the global financial meltdown when they hold their annual summit in Thailand this weekend.

Until recently a relative bright spot in the world economy, several countries in the region of more than half a billion people are facing recession and growing unemployment as demand from trading partners plummets.

Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva recently said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit would ''discuss ways and means to mitigate the effects of the financial and economic crisis on the ASEAN community.''

Leaders gathering at the royal beach resort of Hua Hin are expected to sign a declaration on a roadmap for forming an EU-style community by 2015 and to formally ink a free trade pact with Australia and New Zealand.

They will also discuss a 120-billion-dollar emergency fund agreed on by Asian finance ministers on Sunday -- but analysts warn that the region is largely at the mercy of global events.

''What ASEAN can do itself is probably pretty limited,'' said Barclays capital regional economist Nicholas Bibby.

''The main thing is ASEAN's exposure to the global economy. Because of its reliance on exports, if the global economy takes a hit, then so will ASEAN's.''

In terms of their financial systems, ASEAN countries have been relatively unscathed by the global crisis, partly due to strengthened oversight after the 1997/1998 Asian financial crisis.

ASEAN states also have little exposure to the toxic mortgage-based securities and other financial instruments blamed for the turmoil.

But the real economies of Southeast Asian countries have been hit after exports to developed markets fell dramatically and incoming investments slowed.

Current ASEAN chair Thailand -- the region's second biggest economy -- was the most recent country to post depressing economic data. …