THE THREE PILLARS OF THE ASEAN COMMUNITY
APSC (ASEAN Political-Security Community)
The APSC’s main aim is to ensure that all the countries in the region co-exist in peace within themselves and with the global community. in a democratic and fair environment. The members of the community have pledged to settle any differences using peaceful methods, and to regard their national securities as being fundamentally linked to one another by geographical location, common vision, and objectives. The APSC has the following components:
- political development;
- conflict prevention;
- conflict resolution;
- post conflict peace building;
- shaping and sharing of norms; and
- the implementation of shared mechanisms.
While everyone seems to be focused on the AEC and its impact on businesses, civil servants are not immune to the ambitious plan of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to turn the region into a free-trade community, or the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.
The Asean Political Security Community and the Asean Socio-Cultural Community will lead to close and frequent contacts between government agencies in the grouping. “Civil servants have to adjust themselves to prepare for the region to be one community,”said Secretary-General of the Civil Service Commission (CSC), Nonthigorn Karnchanachitra.
One of the problems faced by Thailand is that only a few offices are familiar with engaging with their counterparts in Southeast Asia. Only the Foreign, Commerce and Finance ministries have experience in engaging negotiations with regional counterparts as they hold regular meetings to bolster political, trade and financial ties.
However, other government offices still view ASEAN as unfamiliar territory, and outside their immediate scope of interest. Consequently, they have little knowledge or awareness about what will happen in 2015 with the advent of the AEC in 2015.
AEC – “A Community of Caring and Sharing Societies”
“We see ASEAN as a very important area and the fastest growing in the world. Now ASEAN’s intra-trade of only 25 per cent can increase to 50-60 per cent in the near future.” (source – The Nation). The AEC will be fully established by 2015, and is expected to improve competitiveness by transforming the economic group into a single market and production base, based on the following five objectives:
- Free flow of goods – Eliminating existing non-tariff barriers through improvements in the transparency of non-tariff measures, and the promulgation of rules and regulations which conform to international standards and practices. Trade will be facilitated through the harmonisation and standardisation of trade and customs procedures.
- Free flow of trade – The removal of all restrictions relating to the provision of services and the formation of companies across the borders of the 10 ASEAN member states by 2015, subject to respective national regulations. Asean is also working toward harmonisation and standardisation to help facilitate the movement of skilled labour within the region. As such, the Asean framework goes beyond a push to simplify visa and work permit processing, as it also involves ways for member countries to recognise the professional qualifications issued within each. Clearly, harmonisation and standardisation of professional qualifications across member counties is a difficult undertaking.
- Free flow of investment – The full establishment of a free and open investment regime, to boost competitiveness within ASEAN countries, and to attract flows of investment to the economic bloc.
- Free flow of capital – Fortify capital market development by harmonising financial standards through the promulgation of regulations in areas such as the offering of debt securities, and disclosure requirements, to enhance capital flows throughout the region.
- Free flow of skilled labour – Member countries are aiming to increase the mobility of labour within the ASEAN region, by facilitating the issuance of visas and employment passes for professionals and skilled labour, thus intensifying competition for employment opportunities in the region by 2015. To this end, one of the goals set in the Asean Economic Community Blueprint is the free flow of skilled labour.
However, Thailand’s domestic laws are far more restrictive. For example, the Alien Employment Act imposes work permit requirements and also gives effect to a 1979 royal decree, wholly excluding non-Thais from 39 occupations reserved for Thai nationals.
As other member countries also face similar issues, Article 33 of the Blueprint provides that ” … Asean is working to facilitate the issuance of visas and employment passes for Asean professionals and skilled labour who are engaged in cross-border trade and investment-related activities.”
Numbers 2-4 above will be major challenges for all the member countries with the exception of Singapore, which has long since liberalised foreign investment. For Thailand, significant amendments are required before it open up its market to other ASEAN members. AEC envisages the following key characteristics:
- a region fully integrated into the global economy;
- a single market and production base;
- a highly competitive economic region; and
- a region of equitable economic development.
As the name suggests, AEC is all about achieving regional economic integration with effective facilitation for trade and investment by 2015. However, the AEC will NOT adopt a single currency like the Euro. The main areas of cooperation are:
- recognition of professional qualifications;
- regional human resources development;
- trade financing measures;
- enhanced infrastructure and communications;
- financial and economic policies;
- development of electronic transactions throughout ASEAN;
- integration of industries across the region to promote regional sourcing; and
- enhancement of private sector involvement to help build the AEC.
The AEC blueprint adopted by leaders in 2007 stated clear directions and measures to be implemented by ASEAN countries and split the ASEAN members into two groups in recognition of their different levels of development:
ASEAN+6: (Nation of Brunei,Indonesia,Malaysia,Philippines,Singapore andThailand) – the ‘original’ members.
ASEAN+4: (Cambodia, Lao PDR,Myanmar andVietnam) – the ‘new’ members. An organisation exists that is collectively known as ASEAN Dialogue Partners, including ASEAN+3 (China, Japan and South Korea); and ASEAN-CER (Australia and New Zealand).
One of the foundations of the AEC is the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), which is a preferential tariff scheme to promote the free flow of goods within ASEAN that are manufactured within any ASEAN country.
The AEC will open up an opportunity for all government agencies to meet with their counterparts for the first time. It will affect not only government agencies, but also local administrative organisations located along the border with other countries.
Thus, in the future, it will not be surprising to see local government officials from Thailand engaging in conversations in the same room as their counerparts from other countries about issues affecting their common interest.
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ASCC (ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community)
“Body language is important. For instance, touching someone’s head may mean something else in another country, but it is offensive in Thailand.”
The ASSC represents the human side of ASEAN, and its objective is to achieve an ASEAN Community that is people orientated, where the building of a society is unified through shared beliefs, and where the general welfare and well-being of its peoples are enhanced.
The ASSC is expected to maintain and strengthen peace, security and stability and enhance ASEAN’s capacity for self-management of regional security. It includes the fight against terrorism and greater maritime cooperation, but does not include, nor does it have any plans for, a regional military bloc or defence pact. In fact, member countries are free to pursue their own foreign policies and defence arrangements.
The ASCC has the following objectives:
- forging of a common identity;
- managing the impact of economic integration;
- raising the quality of life of its peoples (and enhancing environmental sustainability);
- building caring and sharing societies. and a joint caring and sharing society; and
- nurturing human, cultural and natural resources for sustained development of a harmonious and people orientated ASEAN.
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