BY THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
The five countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with resident embassies in Mexico and the Mexican Business Council for Foreign Trade (COMSE) will be hosting a one-day business forum in Guadalajara in later this month, the Royal Thai Embassy announced Monday.
The forum, which will be held inside the premises of the Guadalajara Chamber of Commerce, will include conferences by all five ASEAN resident ambassadors (from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam), as well as representatives from more than 30 Southeast Asian companies looking to pair with Mexican counterparts, along with one-stop shops to promote bilateral trade and investment in infrastructure, energy and information technology.
Although it has received precious little coverage here in Mexico, the 10-mmber ASEAN established in Bangkok in 1967 as a loose political association with founding members Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, underwent a dramatic transition at the end of last year to become a budding trade bloc aimed at promoting mutual economic and commercial cooperation and strengthening regional integration through peaceful collaboration and exchange.
Today, it also includes Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Although the promise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) has, to a large extent, overshadowed coverage of the new ASEAN trade group, there is much to be said for the Johnny-come-lately bloc, as Philippine Ambassador Catalino Dilem Reinante Jr., dean of the ASEAN diplomatic community in Mexico, recently pointed out.
“Today, our member states are enjoying the fruits of peace, stability and development, brought by years of commitment and hard work by ASEAN and our partners,” he told The News.
“No doubt, there are still a lot of challenges ahead of us. However, I wish to take this time to celebrate what we have accomplished so far, and to look to the future with renewed confidence in where ASEAN is headed.”
Dilem Reinante noted that ASEAN, which became a formal economic community on Dec. 31, will help to promote growth and development throughout the region.
With a population of 600 million, ASEAN’s Gross Domestic Product is expected to grow by more than 5 percent per annum over the next five years, with intra-ASEAN trade exceeding $1.8 trillion annually thanks to the establishment of a single production and distribution base in which products can be manufactured, distributed and sold duty-free anywhere within the region.
The new bloc is also expected to have enhanced connectivity through a new super highway, improved maritime links and liberalized air and rail services.
“On the socio-cultural front, meanwhile, ASEAN has continually promoted people-to-people linkages, greater cross-cultural understanding and the development of a stronger sense of common identity among the ASEAN peoples,” Dilem Reinante said.
“Together, the people of ASEAN have a significant impact on the international economy, and we have a responsibility to stay relevant and economically healthy because our commitment to a shared community and shared prosperity affects not just our people, but the world as a whole.”
The ambassador went on to say that because of their global impact, ASEAN countries have a moral imperative to “stay together and do our utmost to remain a credible and strong grouping.”
“Doing so will not just attract investments into our economies, but will allow us to project and protect our shared interests more effectively in the global arena, based on the values that we all share,” he said.
“As ASEAN continues to build on its areas of common interest and work to reinforce and strengthen ASEAN unity, centrality and credibility, we must bear in mind that we are one ASEAN family: our individual strength when added to that of our neighbors’ constitutes a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”
What does all this mean for the Mexican businessman?
Mainly, easier access to the 10-country region and a solid political stability that is lacking in places in Africa and the Middle East, with coherent rules and norms that will facilitate business.
But the region has not always enjoyed peaceful cooperation.
When first founded in the 1960s, Southeast Asia was politically torn by interstate and intrastate conflicts spurred on by the Cold War.
The Vietnam War was at its height after U.S. intervention in Cambodia and Laos, and Myanmar, Thailand and the Philippines were beset with insurgencies.
Indonesia was engaged in Konfrontasi, an undeclared war with Malaysia.
Communist uprisings in the region were backed by post-revolutionary China, and Malaysia and the Philippines were squabbling over claims to Sabah, while Singapore was ruffling Malaysian feathers with its 1965 claim to independence.
But the situation in the region underwent a dramatic transformation following the end of the Vietnam War and the accompanying conflicts in Cambodia and Laos in 1975.
Although Southeast Asia remained divided into two political blocs – the noncommunist ASEAN and the communist Indochina with a neutral Burma (now Myanmar) – a fragile peace took hold and real regional cooperation began to take shape under the loosely structured association.
As ASEAN expended its membership, the idea of joint development through economic unity slowly began to dissolve past conflicts in favor of mutual progress and prosperity.
The ASEAN forum will be held on Feb. 29, starting at 10:30 a.m. For more information on the event, contact Sandra Castro at [email protected] or by phone at (33) 3810-7665.