Monday, October 26, 2009

East Asian Community Logistics and Infrastructure Plans Forge Ahead

Working Groups to Examine Economic “Cooperation” and Customs Provisions
Shipping News Feature

HUA HIN - THAILAND – After a generally successful Asean summit here the meeting closed on Saturday with an agreement for four working groups to study the feasibility of a free economic zone involving all the major nations in the region. The studies will look at Customs procedures and duties, origin of goods matters including a standardisation of export labelling and economic proximities.

The nations present all have different attitudes toward the future of trade within the region with the Japanese apparently keen on an EU style of economic bonding tying in all countries locally including Australia, New Zealand and India. Others would prefer a smaller, tighter bonding but this is viewed by some as an expansionist policy by China who, with South Korea, are pushing for an economic grouping of the traditional Asean countries.

Australia were invited, as well as other non Asean members Japan, South Korea, India, and New Zealand, and insisted on the importance of cooperation on political and security matters as well as on economic matters. The target for the participants is an economic integration of some sort by 2015 and this meeting confirmed that the principle of an East Asian Free Trade Association (EAFTA) along the lines of EFTA was established and would be discussed further by the finance ministers involved.

One thing that was agreed was the infrastructure development that will see improved logistics in the region. The Chinese are believed to be prepared to invest $15 billion as part of the loan package to fund development in the area. There will be a port developed at Dawei (Tavoy), Myanmar, a city over which sovereignty between Burma and Siam was long disputed to link Kanchaburi, Thailand with India and China plus the other Asean nations. Trade routes between Vietnam through Thailand and the rest of the Asean countries plus Singapore to Yunnan, China via Bangkok will also be developed.

The conference was soured somewhat by deteriorating relations between the hosts and neighbours Cambodia. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen announced his intent to appoint former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as a government economic adviser, a move bound to incense his neighbours. Typically a regional border dispute between the two has worsened after the two nations troops, who have skirmished around the temple of Preah Vihear for over a year causing at least seven deaths, remains unresolved.

Pic: Closing of the Asean Summit