Interview: Surin Pitsuwan

How can ASEAN assist Indonesia in addressing its significant infrastructure challenges?

SURIN PITSUWAN: Assistance to ASEAN member states for addressing infrastructure challenges is carried out in indirect ways, mostly through sharing experience and best practices in areas such as urban transport planning, development and management. Other avenues of support include harmonising regulations and procedures and developing ASEAN-wide hard infrastructure networks like the Singapore-Kunming rail link and the ASEAN highway network. Furthermore, we have also established effective mechanisms of financial mobilisation for regional infrastructure projects, such as the ASEAN Infrastructure Fund.

What contribution do you expect Indonesia will make to advance ASEAN’s policy agenda?

PITSUWAN: Indonesia’s theme for its ASEAN Chairmanship was “ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations.” I hope Indonesia will continue to be as ambitious in the economic and socio-cultural community as it is in political security. Indonesia has the political weight to offer assistance to its regional neighbours and resolve disputes through peaceful means.

How are logistical integration issues within the ASEAN market being addressed?

PITSUWAN: ASEAN plans to achieve full integration of logistics services by 2013. To guide this agenda it has created a map, endorsed by the ASEAN economic ministers in 2007, that provides detailed measures and action plans to integrate logistics services across the region. This involves various related ASEAN services, customs, transport, telecommunications and investment bodies, as well as private sector organisations.

How will a free and open investment regime be achieved to increase ASEAN’s competitiveness?

PITSUWAN: ASEAN’s vision for an integrated regional economy includes the free flow of both investment and services. Towards this end, ASEAN has identified strategic initiatives in these areas, as set out in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint, and has taken steps to realise these by 2015. One bold initiative to establish this free and open regime has been the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA). As the name suggests, the ACIA is comprehensive, but it is also based on international best practices and on par with other international investment agreements in terms of scope, rights and obligations. An important pillar of the ACIA is its liberalisation component. ASEAN adopted a negative list approach in the formulation of the reservation list under this agreement, meaning anything outside the list is open. We hope member states can now complete the domestic approval process and the agreement will be in force by the end of 2011.

ASEAN also agreed to progressively reduce or eliminate reservations contained in the list following the strategic phases of the AEC Blueprint, and member states are now working to improve the region’s investment regime by reducing or removing impediments.

What benefits and opportunities will come of ASEAN nations working together to make the region a leading destination for international tourism?

PITSUWAN: Member states all have tremendous potential for tourism. Combining individual efforts into a collective campaign would multiply rewards to individual countries as well as the region as a whole. ASEAN has been implementing a number of initiatives to promote the region as a single tourism destination, such as developing multiple-country tour packages, joint promotion campaigns and ASEAN-wide tourism websites. Currently, ASEAN is running joint marketing and promotional efforts within the main source markets of Australia, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. The collaboration will also include the establishment of an ASEAN common area within international travel fairs and the establishment of the ASEAN Promotional Chapter for Tourism in Australia, among other initiatives.