More and more observers are asking:
Will the ASEAN Community be realised next year?
The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), one of three "pillars" of the ASEAN Community - the other two being the ASEAN Political and Security Community (APSC) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) - is generally taken to refer to the "free flow" of goods and services.
This implies the substantial integration of the regional economy and, therefore, increased regional competition.
The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) late last year jointly published a study, The ASEAN Economic Community: A Work In Progress.
The experts commissioned to contribute chapters to the study unanimously concluded that, for various reasons, ASEAN is still far from being economically integrated.
And there is little prospect that the region will be so integrated, as officially envisioned, in the near future, much less by next year.
However, as Mr Jayant Menon, lead economist in the ADB's Office of Regional Economic Integration, and I argue in our joint overview chapter, the achievement of AEC 2015 should not be assessed by the literal reading of the specific measures contained in the Strategic Schedule appended to the AEC Blueprint and approved by ASEAN leaders in their March 2009 declaration.
Rather, AEC 2015 should be seen as a re-affirmation of the aspiration for and commitment to efficiency in trading, market openness and linkages with the international community.
It should not be regarded as a target year, in which ASEAN, its objectives and the way it does things are suddenly transformed.
Rather, it should be regarded as a benchmark or milestone for the measurement of progress towards regional economic integration.