KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is ahead of its neighbours in preparing for the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said that Malaysia had completed 80 per cent of the measures set out for the integration into the AEC framework, ahead of the region's average progress of 72.2 per cent.
"We are pushing toward 90 per cent completion by the end of 2015 and that's already a tall order, as we have only 18 months left. We don't think we can hit 100 per cent; no country would be able to," he told the press at a media townhall session.
The AEC is targeted to be launched at the end of 2015, with the aim of grouping ASEAN countries into a single market by opening up the capital markets. As Myanmar passes on the ASEAN chairmanship baton to Malaysia next year, Mustapa said the country's objective was to continue to work on the main deliverables.
"We are keen to see progress in non-tariff barriers, promote the small and medium enterprise (SME) agenda and make sure there are more impactful youth programmes to encourage them to associate themselves as ASEAN," he said.
On the public perception that there would be an overflow of foreign products into Malaysia when the AEC comes into effect, Mustapa said SMEs need not be too concerned.
"Many businesses are worried about the sudden increase in competition with foreign products, but that won't be so. Foreign businesses have been coming into Malaysia gradually over the last 10 years, and this has been done in stages," he said, noting that local businesses had risen to the challenge and also expanded around the region.
He said some sectors like iron and steel, automotive and agriculture may be harder hit with the tougher competition, but the duty-free and barrier-free market would be good for consumers who would be spoilt for choice.