The ASEAN Economic Integration Forum 2017 (AEIF 2017) opened in Bangkok today with calls to promote more inclusive growth in the development of the ASEAN Community, especially by empowering women and youth as well as promoting sustainable economic development.
Over 100 regional and global participants from civil society, academia, business and government are attending AEIF 2017, organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS), the World Bank Group, St. Antony’s College Oxford University and the World Trade Institute, University of Bern, Switzerland.
Opening the two-day Forum, United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Shamshad Akhtar said, “Over the past 50 years ASEAN has demonstrated the virtues and high dividends of regional cooperation, both for development and peace and security which reinforce each other. Today, ASEAN is positioned to be a key driver of further integration in the Asia Pacific region guided by the 2030 Agenda.” “Working together and building on ASEAN’s experience, we have an opportunity to take integration in Asia and the Pacific a step further and support growth, jobs and sustainable development across Asia and the Pacific,” added Dr. Akhtar.
Dr. Alan Bollard, Executive Director of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Secretariat further emphasized that both ASEAN and APEC have helped promote trade-driven growth in the past, but “we realise that there are different challenges ahead, so we need to learn from one another’s new approaches.” Highlighting the role of higher education institutions to ensure continued understanding of the importance of ASEAN integration among its people, Professor Dr. Noor Azlan Ghazali, the Vice Chancellor of the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) said, “ASEAN is an important agenda of UKM, where UKM has made ASEAN Integration as one of the grand challenges in the university’s teaching and research.” Since its creation, ASEAN has transformed into the world’s sixth-largest market, third-largest labour force and is projected to become the fourth-largest economic bloc by 2030.
Despite high economic growth over the past two decades, many countries in the region are experiencing widening disparities. A recent United Nations study estimated that in 2015, women’s lack of equal employment cost Southeast Asian economies about 18% of GDP, amounting to nearly half a billion dollars. “The economic and social integration of ASEAN will transform the lives of people across Southeast Asia. The creation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) has been a big step,” said Dr. Ulrich Zachau, World Bank Director for Regional Partnerships, Malaysia and Thailand. “Further financial, labor market, and infrastructure integration in the AEC can bring massive gains for people, such as more access to more financial services and jobs; faster and cheaper travel of goods and people within ASEAN; and better protection from disaster risks.”
3The third in the AEIF series, the Forum will also feature several eminent roundtables addressing opportunities and challenges faced by ASEAN in areas such as engaging community, positioning business, connecting partners and developing greater connectivity through the ASEAN Open Skies agreement.