Asean nations should resist protectionism
From Azaraimy HH in Hua Hin, Thailand

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, along with nine other Asean leaders, signed the Cha-am Hua Hin Declaration on the Roadmap for an Asean Community (2009-2015) at the end of the 14th Asean Summit yesterday.

The declaration towards liberalisation of trade, stronger integration and cohesiveness was signed at Thailand's seaside resort hotel of Dusit Thani in Pinchaburi Province.

During the Retreat, leaders reviewed the progress of Asean over the past year, particularly the implementation of the Asean Charter, and exchanged views on regional and international challenges including the global financial crisis, food and energy security, and disaster management.

His Majesty in his titah said the Asean Charter would allow Asean to move forward together, as it provided the association with a clear direction in strengthening its existing mechanisms and streamlining the working method.

His Majesty also added that it was important for Asean to be strong and integrated as it could affect the association's credibility.

His Majesty believed that Asean needed to improve its leading role in its regional processes to address challenges facing the group.

On the current economic situation, His Majesty said that Asean had faced a similar situation in the past, and reiterated the need for Asean member states to overcome these challenges together.

His Majesty said the real challenge for Asean in any financial crisis was to determine how member states could restore and build confidence in its financial systems, economic policies and, most importantly, its people.

His Majesty believed that the best way to do this was to show to its stakeholders and rest of the world that Asean was proceeding in the right direction in creating a stronger economy and more financially sound region.

In this regard, His Majesty expressed hope that Asean member states would continue to resist taking protectionist measures, and believed that Asean needed to demonstrate this by making progress with its regional integration efforts, and fulfilling its commitments with dialogue partners to realise the Asean Economic Community.

His Majesty was pleased with the positive outcome of the recent Asean Plus Three Finance Ministers' Meeting, such as working with regional partners on the Chiang Mai Initiative, as well as the establishment of an independent regional surveillance mechanism.

On food security, His Majesty said that Asean should look into ways to enhance its existing regional mechanisms such as encouraging investment in the agriculture sector, and enhancing the region's capacity in food production. His Majesty added that all these would reassure people on the continued availability of food supplies in the region.

On energy security, His Majesty said the volatility in oil prices over the last year highlighted the importance for a stable energy policy that would support the region's continued growth and development. His Majesty added that the region's economic growth emphasised the urgent need to effectively address the matter.

His Majesty observed that current activities within Asean and its dialogue partners were positive steps in achieving this stability. Nonetheless, His Majesty believed that more could be done to enhance the work undertaken among Asean countries, especially in terms of sharing information and strengthening dialogue and cooperation.

On natural disaster, His Majesty said that its effects on the general public, economy and infrastructure were the same everywhere. In this regard, His Majesty was pleased to see the Asean Plus Three mechanism, the East Asia Summit and the Asean Regional Forum establish close cooperation in disaster management and saw the need to ensure that these efforts would complement in the initiatives of individual Asean countries.

After the Retreat session, His Majesty and other Asean leaders witnessed the signing ceremony for the Asean Petroleum Agreement. Signing on behalf of Brunei was HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Previously, it was decided that Asean would help member states if their energy reserves fell below 20 per cent, but the energy ministers agreed Sunday that assistance should be given only if reserves fall below 10 per cent.

His Majesty then joined other Asean leaders to sign the declaration.

The leaders agreed to jointly fight protectionism and speed up regional integration in response to the global financial crisis. The leaders also agreed to refrain from introducing and raising new barriers.

Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, who chaired the summit said Asean leaders have committed firmly to free trade and cooperation in dealing with economic difficulties arising from the global economic downturn.

Abhisit said countries should not favour protectionism but instead resort to free flow of goods, because if one country steered its policy towards trade protectionism the other countries would reply in kind, and in the end every country will lose out.

The leaders agreed to alert each other if they encounter any protectionist measures, Abhisit said.

All Asean members were committed to informing each other of individual economic policies, coordinating through the Asean Secretariat, he added.

The leaders would contribute to the strengthening of the economy in the region through sub-regional agreements and cooperation. - Borneo Bulletin (2nd Mar 2009)