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The Future of Asia 2012

ASEAN Integration Promises Economic Dividends: Panel

Friday, May 24, 2013

TOKYO (Nikkei)--A plan to make the Association of Southeast Asian Nations into a single market is likely to improve economies as countries become more open to investment and job market fluidity increases, a panel at the 19th International Conference on The Future of Asia agreed Friday in Tokyo.

The ASEAN Economic Community will create a single market and production base that is competitive and fully integrated into the global economy, said Shandre Thangavelu, associate professor at the National University of Singapore.

The creation of the AEC will solve human resources issues for Thai company Saha Pathanapibul Plc, according to Director Vathit Chokwatana. "There is a shortage of labor in Thailand. Once the AEC is launched we can move to places with labor, or employees will be able to come to work for us in Thailand," Chokwatana said.

The AEC will help Hitachi Ltd. integrate its businesses in ASEAN as well as China, said Kiyoaki Iigaya, the company's chief executive for Asia. "The agreement will allow us to allocate our manufacturing sites and sales channels in the most suitable places in the region," he said. "So far, ASEAN has been a manufacturing base. It is becoming more important as a market," he added.

FamilyMart Co. aims to expand the scope of business in ASEAN beyond convenience store operations, said Junichi Yamashita, executive officer of the company. "We want to develop private-brand products in ASEAN," he said. Nurturing human resources in the region will be important, he argued. "Indonesians and Filipinos, for example, might work in Thailand," he said.

There are problems to be solved. "It is much easier to liberalize goods than it is services. Services are a very human activity, so this sector is much more difficult to deal with. ASEAN is considering how to deal with unskilled labor," said Thangavelu.

Hiroyuki Ishige, chairman and CEO of the Japan External Trade Organization, moderated the discussion.

Titles of speakers, names of companies, etc., were correct as of the time when the forum was held.