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Asean to gain competitive edge as AEC: poll

Dec 25. 2015
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By THE STRAITS TIMES
ASIA NEWS

ASEAN will be more competitive once the Asean Economic Community (AEC) is a reality, but the results of a region-wide poll show that people remain circumspect about the gains made so far and sceptical about how fast matters can progress on regional integr
According to the survey, which was conducted by The Straits Times and covered all 10 Asean nations, businesses will do better, work opportunities will grow and lives will improve. Many respondents expect to travel a lot more in the coming years.
In the poll, few responded with a “yes” to whether Asean is close to becoming a community. 
The Straits Times embarked on this poll on October 20 to gauge sentiment across Asean as the region nears this historic moment.
“The result of the poll clearly shows that there is general acceptance that working together as 10 countries will yield a better outcome for everyone in Asean,” said Ong Keng Yong, Singapore’s ambassador-at-large. “Unfortunately, there is still insufficient awareness of how the 10 countries can operate the Asean Community into a regional system which provides benefits for the Asean citizens.”
The poll by The Straits Times, together with members of the Asia News Network, elicited a range of responses from citizens of Asean on the formation of the AEC, which is due to come into being on December 31. The poll was hosted online from October 20 to December 9, over a 50-day period, and 655 people took part in the survey. 
In the poll, few responded with a “yes” to whether Asean is close to becoming a community.
A significant majority acknowledged that it was difficult to do business in the region.
And close to half said people’s mindsets will be a challenge in bringing the region closer together, attaching far more importance to this factor than to rules and legislation in the region.
 
Key findings are: 
More than 75 per cent of the respondents say Asean will become more competitive globally after the AEC is a reality.
Slightly more than half ex-pect business to improve.
Half of those polled are certain that life will be better.
 Two-thirds expect work or travel to rise in the next three years.
Only a quarter of the respondents believe that Asean is close to becoming a community. More than one-third are clear that it is not close to being a community, while the rest are uncertain.
 
Among other findings of 
the survey: 
Close to two-thirds of those who took part in the poll already identify with their peers in the region, although the majority agree that people in the region do not share a common identity.
Singaporeans are looking forward to being part of a wider formalised community – hoping it will lead to more jobs and trade opportunities. They hope the formation of the AEC will reduce business costs and allow for seamless travel within the 10-country grouping. And they believe the AEC might even make Asean more inclusive, give it a stronger regional identity and improve its negotiating power.
Still, they recognise that all this will take time and assumes everyone will come on board. 
A small number of respondents, however, hope it will bring no major change.
Singaporeans’ overall upbeat sentiment resonates with people in Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand as well – the four countries from where 80 or more responses were received during the 50-day polling period. A minimum of 80 responses was sought to ensure a reasonable sample to gauge sentiments in the region.
Slightly over half of those who took part in the poll in Singapore expect their work or travel to increase in the next three years. Their view on this is closer to those of Thais and Malaysians. At least three-quarters of Indonesians and Filipinos expect an increase in their work or travel.
While most Singaporeans have links with people in Asean, less than 10 per cent say that people in Asean share a common identity.
A hefty 70 per cent of Singaporean respondents believe people in Asean do not share a common identity. In contrast, 55 per cent of respondents in Malaysia held this view, while the figure for the Philippines was 49 per cent, that for Thailand was 57 per cent and that for Indonesia was 38 per cent.
Kong Ming Lai, of Malaysia, is 
 among those who are optimistic.
“With the inception of AEC, there will be plenty of opportunities in business ranging from development of agriculture to infrastructure, energy, affordable housing, transportation, manufacturing and telecommunication to transform a living population [of] 625 million from 10 countries.”
 
‘Let’s be part of it’
Thai respondent Danai Pattaphongse wrote: “Ways of living will be much more dynamic. Changes are the rule rather than the exception. Everyone has to be active and be prompt to ride on the Asean waves. Nothing can stand still. Let’s be part of it.”
There are others who said turning the regional grouping into a real community would not be easy and political will was necessary to push through the changes. A minority fear that given Asean’s track record and mode of working thus far, the experiment of bringing the 10 economies closer together could well be just a pipe dream.
Malaysia’s Danny Apple Seef said: “What is actually AEC? 625 million people. You think can come together to form one community ... 101 different ideology ... Culture ... Customs … 100 years of grievances ... no trust ... non language communication … can they integrate into one?”
Thai respondent Wongsiri Miyaji remarked: “I don’t think the AEC will change my life at all, at least not in the foreseeable future. I would like to see the AEC bring about common standards across the region, such as environmental standards, labour standards etc, in a similar way to the EU but I can’t imagine this happening any time soon.
“In the meantime, the huge disparities between the member states, in areas such as GDP per capita, wages, productivity etc, will ensure that certain members will continue to protect their own economies and people by whatever means they can. This type of protectionism won’t die easily, in spite of the elimination of tariff barriers.”
And Taufan of Indonesia said: “I am not sure whether the AEC will bring more harm or benefit to the region.” Easy connectivity could be a great advantage but he feared it could mean much competition for countries such as his.
“If the AEC could be delayed five to 10 years more when each country could find its own speciality in industry and commodities then the AEC would be in much better benefit,” he wrote.
 

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