Interview: Surin Pitsuwan

How can ASEAN countries work together to position the region as a leading tourism destination?

SURIN PITSUWAN: The ASEAN countries all have tremendous potential for attracting tourists, and recognise that combining their individual efforts will multiply the opportunities and benefits for the whole region as well as for each country. ASEAN has been implementing a number of regional initiatives to promote the region as a tourism destination. These include developing multiple-country and regional tour packages, joint promotional campaigns in the main source markets and ASEAN-wide tourism websites.

What impact will linking the Malaysian, Philippine, Singaporean and Thai stock exchanges have on development in the region?

SURIN: Linking the exchanges will certainly help deepen the ASEAN market and increase the liquidity, scale and capacity of ASEAN capital markets, which will help the region compete globally. Allowing investors in the region to participate in other ASEAN markets facilitates greater access to a larger market. Such cooperation helps to promote and build the ASEAN market as an asset class, further enhancing the region’s attractiveness in terms of investment flows.

How will a free and open investment regime be achieved as a means to increase ASEAN’s competitiveness in attracting foreign investment?

SURIN: ASEAN’s vision for an integrated regional economy includes the free flow of investment and services. Nevertheless, we have to stress that our approach to establishing a free and open regime is not limited to simply liberalising our investment regimes. We also have to provide adequate protection to investors and their investments. Our agreements contain provisions that safeguard this and allow investors to have direct recourse through the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism instituted within the framework of the investment agreement. In addition, we are also working to promote and facilitate investment as ASEAN recognises it must raise further awareness to increase intra-ASEAN and foreign investment.

How are logistical integration issues being addressed to help transform ASEAN into a single market?

SURIN: A roadmap for the integration of logistics services was endorsed in 2007 that plans to achieve full integration of logistics services by 2013. With regards to the trade of services, significant progress has been made to liberalise the nine logistics services subsectors. The Eighth Package of Commitments of the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services, which is targeted for completion in 2012, will allow all member states to have up to 51% of their logistics services owned by foreign shareholders. And by the end of 2013, foreign equity shareholding is targeted to be increased to 70% with no limitations in cross-border supplies and consumption abroad. With these ambitious targets, trade barriers will be kept to a minimum and links between the ASEAN logistics providers will be improved. Various facilitation activities are also being undertaken, including information sharing about the current regimes of member states as well as the development of an ASEAN logistics services website.

In your opinion, what is the scope for developing closer ties at the sub-regional level?

SURIN: The federal states of Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak are part of the Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA). The BIMP-EAGA aims to establish the sub-region as the food basket of ASEAN and the rest of Asia as well as the premier ecotourism destination. It also aims to focus on infrastructure development to spur economic development. This undoubtedly necessitates close monitoring and substantive follow-throughs at the sub-regional level, as well as greater awareness of the progress being made to integrate ASEAN as a whole to identify gaps and plan for any missing links.