ASEAN members should double their efforts to meet targets for the ASEAN Economic Community which is to be set up by the end of next year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said to fellow ASEAN leaders.
Ultimately, an economically strong and integrated ASEAN will be better placed to improve its citizens' lives and deal with regional and global challenges.
"An ASEAN that is economically integrated, strong and united can better attract investments, create jobs, manage regional challenges, as well as be an effective platform to engage larger powers," he said.
Speaking at meetings on the opening day of the ASEAN Summit, he urged members to continue seeking ways to keep their economies relevant and competitive.
Apart from the ASEAN Community - which includes the economic community and its goals of economic integration and freer movement of goods and capital - they should also work to fully implement the ASEAN open skies agreement by the end of next year.
The agreement, allowing for more frequent flights between ASEAN cities, will facilitate trade, investment and tourism flows across South-east Asia.
He welcomed the development of non-binding public-private partnership principles to help countries work with the private sector for infrastructure projects of different sizes.
To date, ASEAN members have completed about 80 per cent of targets set in the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint. But PM Lee said the remaining 20 per cent would be the most challenging.
Members should focus on sustainable growth, which has gained prominence amid changing climate patterns in recent years.
He also welcomed Jakarta's ratification of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution and President Joko Widodo's public comments on dealing with forest fires in Indonesia.
Mr Lee encouraged members to support regional mechanisms such as the ASEAN Haze Monitoring System, which Singapore developed, to fight haze.
He welcomed Myanmar's setting up of an ASEAN Institute for Green Economy - launched yesterday - which will look at sustainable development issues.
Mr K. Shanmugam, Singa- pore's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, told reporters ASEAN members should also look at how to increase intra-ASEAN trade - which currently accounts for less than a quarter of ASEAN's total trade value. Most members do three to four times as much trade outside the grouping.
"Really, as an ASEAN Community, what does it mean for our people? It must increase trade. It must increase the economic relationship," he said. "If you look at the European Union, at other communities, intra-community trade is significant. Ours is only 20 per cent so we need to increase that."
At meetings yesterday between ASEAN and India, Japan and Australia, expanding trade ties also figured prominently in Mr Lee's remarks. He spoke about intensifying efforts to complete the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with the three countries.
The RCEP is a free trade pact involving the 10 ASEAN members, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
At the ASEAN-India meeting, Mr Lee urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to start negotiations on an ASEAN-India open skies agreement, which he called the "missing component" to the current partnership.
He also asked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to press ahead with completing the ASEAN- Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which aims to double the flow of goods, services and investments between ASEAN and Japan by 2022.
And at a meeting to mark 40 years of ASEAN-Australia ties, Mr Lee said to Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott and fellow leaders that there was room for greater investment flows between ASEAN and Australia.
This article was first published on November 13, 2014.
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