ASEAN: Narrowing Development Gap Essential to Regional Integration
Organized by the ASEAN Secretariat and the OECD Development Centre, the inaugural Narrowing the Development Gap (NDG) Lecture Series commenced this week. Joined by speakers from the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia, representatives from the organizing parties addressed the key policy issues concerning growth in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV). A recent report entitled “OECD Southeast Asian Outlook 2013: Narrowing the Development Gap”, indicates that the medium-term growth forecasts for CLMV are estimated between 6-7%, outperforming the economies of the ASEAN-6 countries. The report also prescribed continued growth momentum as an effective means of enabling CLMV to catch up with the other member states of ASEAN.
Kensuke Tanaka, Head of the OECD Development Centre’s Asia Desk, underlined the problem when stating, “Disparities need to be examined beyond income level differences and also directed towards areas where gaps are largest, such as poverty and human capital development”. Indeed, Tanaka’s comments reflect the efforts of the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI), established in 2000 with a specific mandate of narrowing the divide, “where equitable and inclusive development will be a defining feature of ASEAN’s integration efforts”. Serving as the primary mechanism for removing any roadblocks to equitable growth, the IAI Work Plan II (2009-2015) focuses on key sectors such as tourism, trade, and investment.
However, Dr. Sothea Oum of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia argues the need for increased spending on education and social infrastructure, and that equally critical to CLMV and all ASEAN members is the implementation of structural policies that raise productivity. The Senior Economist of the ASEAN Integration Monitoring Office (AIMO), Dr. Pitchaya Sirivunnabood, also emphasized the necessity to promote production among the officials of CLMV by highlighting the causal relationship between restricted capacity at the national level and diminished regional integration.
Narrowing the development gap remains an essential component to the integration process currently being undertaken by ASEAN. Indeed, the goal of constructing an ASEAN Community by 2015 will require all of its members to grow together.
Pakistan’s President Calls for Greater Regional Cooperation
Speaking at the opening session of the International Conference on Nowruz held earlier this week in Turkmenistan, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari argued the need for greater regional cooperation in areas of energy collaboration as well as security and counter-terrorism.
Drawing attention to the geographically strategic importance of the region, Zardari identified the growing need for a robust transportation project that would enable better connectivity and trade. As a gesture of good faith, Zardari offered the use of Pakistan’s newest seaport in Gwadar to the Central Asian Republics in attendance.
Zardari also expressed his enthusiasm to implement energy-connectivity projects in the region, citing the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and the recently inaugurated Iran-Pakistan pipeline as positive examples.
Highlighting the historical and cultural links between Pakistan and Central Asian countries, President Zardari concluded by reminding the audience, “We are keen to promote friendly relations with all, especially our neighbors and other regional countries. We are ready to work together with them for peace, progress and prosperity in the region”.