|Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh.— File Photo
HA NOI (VNS)— Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh has said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is nearing its goal of establishing a stronger and more active ASEAN Community by 2015.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Vietnam News Agency, Minh said the formation of the community will bring member countries closer together and improve the lives of people across the region.
The foreign minister confirmed ASEAN leaders have chosen December 31, 2015 as the official launch date for the ASEAN Community.
The community bloc will be based on three key pillars: a Political-Security Community (APSC), an Economic Community (AEC) and a Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC).
APSC will be responsible for acting in the common interest of all member countries; promoting a peaceful, secure and stable region and responding to unconventional security threats, Minh said.
However, he said that ASEAN did not intend to form a military alliance or common defensive bloc.
As an economic community, ASEAN will aim to transform the region into a single market defined by the free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labour and capital.
This will enable equal opportunity for development for all members, he said.
He added that there were no plans for ASEAN to adopt a common currency.
The ASCC wing of ASEAN would facilitate connected and balanced development among member countries. It will also aim to improve the living standards and welfare of those in the region.
Minh stressed that the bloc would provide a market of 600 million people to businesses in member countries, including Vietnamese businesses who are looking to expand trade cooperation and attract investment in an open market.
Tariff and non-tariff barriers will be removed; helping businesses increase exports, reduce import costs, and reduce the price of products, he said.
From December 2015, most products imported within ASEAN will enjoy a zero per cent tax rate, said Minh, adding that Vietnamese produce would benefit from the same preferential tax rates when exporting to China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
The favourable investment environment would also boost foreign investment between ASEAN members, including Viet Nam, he added.
However, Minh warned that Vietnamese businesses would face fierce competition from imported products, services and investment from ASEAN countries; which may damage or even destroy some sectors of the economy.
In spite of this, the foreign minister remained positive, citing a recent study which said the full implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community and other free trade agreements by 2018 will see regional countries increase total revenues by 4.5 per cent compared with 2007, with average wages to rise 7.6 per cent for labourers and 9.6 per cent for skilled workers.
The ASEAN Community is expected to create a more united and supportive regional community focused on common goals for development and prosperity in the region.
Stronger co-operation in defence and more exchanges among ASEAN military officers is expected to boost trust among armed forces and reduce the likelihood of conflict.
Additionally, closer co-operation in trans-national crime prevention and intelligence gathering, will also improve safety in the region, said Minh.
Increased co-operation in the ASEAN bloc is also expected to bring positive improvements in human rights through the establishment of the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the approval of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD); which has affirmed strong commitment to promoting and protecting essential rights.
Other areas of co-operation include human resource development, migration, education and mutual recognition of qualifications, Minh said, adding that this would help Vietnamese workers wanting to work abroad.
In addition, stronger co-operation is also expected in health care and environmental protection, with improved regional responses to epidemics and natural disasters. — VNS