Asean charter comes into force

JAKARTA (AP) - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations moved to forge an EU-style community Monday, signing a charter that makes the bloc a legal entity for the first time and could pave the way for creating a single market within seven years.

Attending the historic occasion was His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Brunei Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and HRH Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Zariah who yesterday morning attended the meeting welcoming the 'Entry into Force of the Asean Charter' at the Asean Secretariat here.

Accompanying Their Royal Highnesses was Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Anak Mansurah Izzul Bolkiah.

Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said the new charter, ratified Monday by foreign ministers, provides legal guidelines for economic and political integration.

Now, the 10-nation organisation is little more than a talk shop which forges agreements through consensus and steers away from confrontation among members.

"Today, the Asean Charter officially entered into force," Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told the meeting. "This is a momentous development at a time when Asean is consolidating, integrating and transforming itself into a community."

Among other things, the charter seeks to establish a single market by 2015 for the region of 500 million people. Asean already has been developing a free-trade zone since the 1990s, but progress has been spotty as countries have sought to exclude key industries from low-tariff rules.

It remained unclear to what degree the charter would open the door for Asean to tackle thorny issues like human rights. The regional bloc has drawn criticism over the years for failing to take action against abuses in military-ruled Myanmar, which is the group's most recent member.

Asean was founded during the Cold War as an anti-communist political coalition, later evolving into a trade bloc. It consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. - (By AP reporter Niniek Karmini, additional reporting by Borneo Bulletin) - Borneo Bulletin (16th Dec 2008)