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Call for Asean to expand free trade [19-07-2013]  
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Asean governments need to further facilitate investment by removing barriers to trade and investment to ensure the region’s 600 million population benefit from economic integration.

Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said while the Asean Economic Community (AEC) was gaining momentum, member countries could not be inward-looking in their policies.

“The objectives of governments in the region are to promote stable and inclusive growth, create employment and reduce poverty. Thus, it is important for us to further facilitate investment by removing barriers to trade and investment.

“Our population of over 600 million would continue to increase, and it is necessary for us to ensure employment opportunities continue to be created, especially for our youth.

“Inward-looking policies would discourage the private sector from fully exploiting the opportunities in the region,” Mustapa said in his address at the 10th Asean Leadership Forum here yesterday.

He said the region’s economic ministers were confident of realising the 2015 AEC deadline, as trade integration had been substantial, with Malaysia implementing 88% of the AEC measures. “There are some in Asean who feel that unlike trade, the financial integration is not taking place as fast as it should be.

“We need more time, as we are at different levels of economic development. My suggestion is for the business community to stop comparing AEC with the economic integration taking place in other regional economic groupings, notably the European Union,” he added.

Mustapa also said that while many Malaysian companies had benefitted from close Asean economic integration by expanding their operations in the region, he would like to see the participation of more small and medium enterprises. He called on the private sector to fully exploit Asean’s five trade agreements with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, as these FTA’s offered huge markets for Asean products.

“To further deepen economic engagement and facilitate trade and investment between Asean and these countries, Asean Governments have embarked on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). To Malaysia, the RCEP is as equal and strategic as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Malaysia remains committed in advancing economic integration in the East Asian region,” he added.

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