This weekend ASEAN held the second of its summits for 2015, along with related meetings with ASEAN partners including the United States, China, India, Australia, Korea, Japan and the United Nations. With regard to the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the major development was the formal announcement of the establishment of the ASEAN Community, inclusive of the AEC, ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) with effect from December 31, 2015. Although this had been generally anticipated for years, what may seem like a formality to some is still a significant step in the regional integration of Southeast Asia.
Just as important is the declaration of further ASEAN integration, with the next milestone being 2025. This sets forth Blueprints for the 3 ASEAN Communities under the rubric of “ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together”, along with the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) Work Plan III (we’ll have a later post analyzing the AEC 2025 blueprint). The Declaration tasks the ASEAN Secretariat with monitoring and reporting on implementation of the AEC 2025 blueprints.
There were other related developments which we cover in summary below:
- ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS) – the Summit confirmed that completing the final rounds of AFAS would extend beyond the anticipated 2015 conclusion date and into 2017. Notably, there was no mention of the ASEAN Trade in Service Agreement (ATISA) so it appears that the start of ATISA talks has been delayed as well.
- ASEAN Integration Report 2015, the ASEAN Investment Report 2015 and AEC 2015: Progress and Key Achievements – these reports were issued, summarizing progress in the implementation of the AEC (we’ll have a later post analyzing these reports). Notably, the last report indicated that ASEAN had met 92.7% of so-called “high priority measures” by October 2015, but had only met 79.5% of total AEC measures as per the AEC Scorecard.
- ASEAN Solutions for Investments, Services and Trade (ASSIST) – the final statement noted the establishment of ASSIST, which appears to be a revamped version of the ASEAN Consultation to Solve Trade and Investment Issues (ACT), as both are internet-based processes that allow the private sector to make non-confrontational complaints (e.g., anonymous) about trade issues (the ACT had suspended operations due to computer technical issues).
- ASEAN-China FTA (ACFTA) – the parties agreed to upgrade the ACFTA, although there was an initial delay in signing ceremony due to a dispute on its geographical coverage that was eventually resolved.
- Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – ASEAN and the RCEP partners set forth a goal of completing negotiations by 2016.
- Timor-Leste’s ASEAN Application – this moved a bit, with the ASEAN Community Council of ASEAN Foreign Ministers and Senior Officials Meeting noting that the Application was a key agenda item, and the final statement stating that ASEAN looked forward both to completion of the three feasibility studies and greater opportunities for Timor-Leste to participate in ASEAN activities (Timor-Leste attended its first ASEAN meeting in October).
The summit also marked Malaysia’s handover of the chair to Laos. Given that Laos has elected to hold both of its summits in November 2016 (thereby satisfying the requirements of the ASEAN Charter), we will have to wait a year for further developments at the leadership level. That will give the ASEAN ministerial meetings next year, in particular the AEC, APSC and ASCC Council meetings, that much more importance in the absence of the usual Spring 2016 ASEAN Summit.
In sum, the ASEAN Summit was successful, even though the flashier deliverables such as ASEAN Common Time or a completed RCEP negotiation fell by the wayside for various reasons. The real legacy of Malaysia’s chairmanship will be the structure of commitments made under ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together. Now ASEAN has to start implementing them.