The 20th ASEAN Economic Ministers Retreat (AEM Retreat) wrapped up in Singapore on February 27 after two days of meetings.

The ministers discussed regional economic issues, agreeing on 2014 priorities towards the establishment of an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and the completion of negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by 2015.

They agreed that in the medium-term, the bloc’s economic outlook remains robust due to rising domestic demand, particularly consumption and infrastructure investment of the private sector.

However, they pointed out some downside risks, including capital outflows, sharp currency depreciation and emerging inflation pressures, confirming that maintaining the bloc’s resilient macroeconomic fundamentals is necessary to deal with these risks.

Participants also emphasised the need to implement the ASEAN Framework for Equitable Economic Development, strengthen regional cooperation for small and medium-sized enterprises and develop a regional framework for public-private partnerships.

They welcomed the Bali Package reached at the World Trade Organisation’s 9th Ministerial Conference in December 2013.

The ministers also noted that the 2015 target is not an end-date to conclude the initiatives of realising the AEC, saying that the pursuit of expanding and deepening market integration will need to continue beyond 2015.

They also backed the decision to set up a working group of the High Level Task Force on ASEAN Economic Integration to develop a draft framework for enhanced ASEAN economic integration for the next 10 years.

In an interview with the Singapore-based Vietnam News Agency correspondent, Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang said Vietnam and other ASEAN member nations had actively talked ways to push forward the priority of achieving the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and realising the legal documents within the ASEAN and ASEAN+1 framework.

Vietnam is among the regional countries that has undertaken the most initiatives for the AEC and ranked third in terms of realising priorities, reaching 87.5 percent. The country was active in discussing regional economic integration beyond 2015, he said.

On the fringes of the AEM Retreat, Hoang and his counterparts from Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand held an in-depth discussion on production and consumption, including the exports of farm produce relevant to sustainable development and poverty reduction.

Meeting with the media after the event, ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh said ministers expressed optimism about ASEAN’s economic performance over the past two years and for 2014-2015, saying that it is owing to strong demand from economies in and outside the bloc, particularly in infrastructure and finance.

On the RCEP negotiations, he said key solutions were adopted to realise the AEC by 2015.

Source: VNA