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Forum renews vow for integration
By Bao Daozu (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-04-25 06:10

BOAO: Participants of the Boao Forum for Asia yesterday wrapped up their annual two-day conference with a renewed vow for regional integration.

The forming of something like the European Union in Asia is still far away, said participants, but East Asia is well on its way to creating an East Asian community.

Speakers from South Asia said their part of the continent, while working to meet a similar goal to that of East Asia, was already looking for opportunities to link the two areas.

With a common pledge, delegates put forward various ideas and opinions on the issue.

Jia Qinglin, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference's National Committee, said trade and economic co-operation would pave the way for all-round co-operation in the areas of politics, security, social development and culture.

"Starting from economic integration, we will gradually build a regional co-operative framework with a rich content, broad scope and complete mechanism," he said.

A major achievement of East Asia's co-operation was the ASEAN plus three dialogue - the co-operative mechanism between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, Japan and South Korea.

The mechanism helped create a favourable atmosphere for co-operation at different levels throughout the region and laid a foundation for the building of the East Asian community, said Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at the forum.

"The East Asian Community that I am referring to is not composed of carefully defined objectives, rules and procedures, but broadly constructed norms, attitudes and behaviours. It is all about creating social and economic capital, not military power houses," Badawi said.

Like East Asia, South Asia is also taking steps to further co-operate. Following the thawing of relations between India and Pakistan, the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation was established.

"Both regional and sub-regional initiatives can help us develop our complementarities to better harness the potentialities amongst us for the benefit of our people. We hope to achieve these objectives through collective efforts, which, in turn, will contribute to the promotion of inter-regional co-operation," said Kirti Nidhi Bista, vice-chairman of Nepal's Council of Ministers.

A number of bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements (FTA) among Asian economies were signed, and dozens are in the pipeline.

However, to reach an equal footing with other regional economies such as the European Union and North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), Asia should accelerate economic integration, said Moon-Soo Chung, economic policy adviser to the president of South Korea.

"Ongoing discussions on FTAs among Asian countries are long overdue and we need to expedite such discussions," he said.

On how long it would take Asia to achieve successful economic integration, opinions differed.

Onkar Kanwar, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said: "Obviously we are heading towards an Asian common market within the next two decades."

Khemphen Pholsena, vice-president of the Asian Development Bank, said the process needed 50 years.

"It will come but we need to be more mature," she said. Although the continent's economy is growing quickly, there is still an enormous income disparity in the region, and financial systems in many Asian countries are still very weak, she said.

In addition, a deeper integration requires political willingness, trust and confidence, she said.

Economic integration brought about by Asian FTAs will necessitate the study of monetary integration, said Donald Tsang, acting chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

"The benefits of globalization and Asian economic integration are clearly strong incentives for us to think about whether we should work towards a single Asian currency," he said.

If Asian economies indeed decide they need a single currency, they should build more sophisticated financial markets and improve their regulatory institutions, he said.

But Roberto de Ocampo, president of the Asian Institute of Management, said the introduction of a single currency had political implications because a unified central bank would be needed, which requires compromise. Political will is crucial, he said.

Fidel Ramos, chairman of the Boao Forum, was satisfied with the discussions on regional integration.

"Promoting the integration of Asia - and co-operation in the Asia-Pacific region - is the Boao Forum's reason for being," he said.

(China Daily 04/25/2005 page2)

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