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Rachel Chang
Saturday, Apr 12, 2014

Asia

Don't overlook Asean, Asia's third major economy: ESM Goh

The Straits Times | Rachel Chang | Saturday, Apr 12, 2014

Most eyes are on the rise of China or the recovery of the Japanese economy, but Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday said a third huge economy in Asia, ASEAN, should not be forgotten.

Speaking to an audience of world leaders and business bigwigs at the Boao Forum for Asia on Hainan island, he said the journey towards the ASEAN Economic Community was 80 per cent complete but most Asian watchers have "not been paying particular attention to" what will be a free trade zone of about 600 million people.

Already, virtually all goods flow tariff-free within ASEAN, from aviation to telecommunications, and the 10 member states are logistically linked.

ASEAN is also negotiating a free trade agreement with six other major countries in the region as part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

"We are giving confidence to investors that this is one investment area, not separate ones," he said. Mr Goh added that two ASEAN nations in particular had huge untapped potential - the Philippines and Myanmar.

The Philippines has chalked up stellar growth rates thanks to governance reforms, he said. And while Myanmar lacks infrastructure and skilled labour, it is the "last outpost for foreign investors", he added.

If Myanmar is politically stable after elections next year, "it will be the driver in ASEAN as it is an underfulfilled economy", he said.

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