The Khmer Times 18 January 2016
The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) came into effect on December 31, 2015 with the objective of creating a single market and production base, an economically competitive region, equitable development, and a regional economy that is globally integrated.
However, there remain obstacles to achieve the goals set out in the AEC blueprint. Less developed economies do not have the institutional capacity and human resources to fully reap the benefits generated from regional integration. Economic inequality between member states is an impediment to realizing an inclusive and people-centered ASEAN. A two-tiered ASEAN is vulnerable to crisis and instability. Inequality is the cause of political and social ills, which in turn leads to social and political upheavals.
Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam (CLMV) are the least developed members of ASEAN. Hard and soft infrastructure gaps, income gaps, and the digital divide are key indicators of asymmetrical development in ASEAN. Institutional capacity, human resources, and physical infrastructure are some of the key challenges the CLMV countries face in their regional integration. The lack of financial resources and divergent interests are also the main obstacles to narrowing development gaps in ASEAN.
The private sector, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in these countries face difficulties in exporting their products and services to the region due to the lack of market information, export capacity, and non-tariff trade barriers. Promotion of social protection, particularly the establishment of mechanisms to care for the most vulnerable groups, such as the people with disabilities, women and children, is crucial to narrowing the gaps. Institutional capacity, resource limitations, and governance and accountability, need to be holistically addressed.
ASEAN is going to revitalize and energize the Initiative for ASEAN Integration Work Plan III to narrow the development gap within the region. It will target areas where the development gap is acute, particularly strengthening the capacity to implement regional commitments towards ASEAN economic integration.
The more developed ASEAN member states are willing to further support CLMV in technical support on standards and conformity assessment, harmonization of standards and technical regulations, human-resource development, and enhancement of competiveness and local production capacity of SMEs.
ASEAN, in cooperation with its dialogue partners, also focuses on strengthening the ability of civil servants to deliver reforms as well as their capacity to promote market-oriented agricultural development and facilitate sub-regional and regional market integration.
Cross-border migration is an emerging development challenge for the CLMV countries as these countries send migrant workers to the more developed countries in ASEAN. CLMV countries need more technical support in promoting safe migration. There are many cases of human rights violations and human trafficking associated with intra-regional migration.
ASEAN needs to enforce regional measures to protect the rights and dignity of migrant workers, and transform cross-border migration into a source of national and regional development.
Collective action through the promotion of collaboration and coordination between and among ASEAN member states is critical to intensifying regional integration. Resource mobilization and coordination in narrowing development gaps needs new momentum. National focal points should be created to address equitable development.
To have seamless regional economic integration, CLMV countries on their part need to hasten and broaden policy reforms and institutional building in promoting trade facilitation and investment attraction, public-private-civil society partnership, and inclusive growth.
Cambodia always puts narrowing the development gap at the forefront of its regional economic integration policy. By getting external technical and financial support and deepening internal regulatory and policy reforms, Cambodia can catch up with other ASEAN member countries.