Ten nations are members of ASEAN, a regional organization that promotes economic integration and intergovernmental cooperation. The primary goals for the formation of ASEAN in 1967, the foundation year, were to accelerate economic growth, improve social progress and promote peace and security in Southeast Asia. The region covers 1.7 million square miles and a population of approximately 500 million people. The main projects of the organization are economic cooperation, trade promotion among ASEAN member-states and in the global economy, and joint technical and research cooperation among members.
What Is ASEAN?
ASEAN stands for the "Association of Southeast Asian Nations" and it is a political and economic union of 10 Asian countries aimed at promoting the economic growth, political stability of individual countries, and regional stability among its members. Formed on August 8, 1967, by Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, membership has extended to include Vietnam, Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Cambodia, and Brunei. Apart from economic and political growth it also focuses on social progress, social-cultural evolution among member countries, and provision of mechanisms and strategies to resolve differences peacefully.
The History of the Formation of ASEAN
Before the formation of ASEAN, there was a 1961 organization called the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), made up of Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines. On August 8, 1967, ASEAN itself was formed when the foreign ministers of Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia signed the Bangkok Declaration of what is now known as the ASEAN Declaration. The driving force behind the formation of the organization was the thirst for economic development and fear of communism. Brunei joined the organization in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999. In the 1970s, with the change of power in the Asian countries and after the end of the Vietnam War, ASEAN experienced dynamic economic growth and stronger unification such that the organization was able to adopt a unified response when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979.
The first summit of the Organization held in Bali, Indonesia in 1976, had several industrial projects agreed upon, and the Declaration of Concord and Treaty of Amity and Cooperation signed. In the 1980s after the termination of the Cold War, the organization exercised more political stability and by the 1990s, ASEAN had emerged as the leading voice on security measures and local trade. In 1992, the predecessor of ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) was adopted. Under this policy, phasing out tariffs to increase the regional competitive advantage over the world market was agreed on and ratified on January 28, 1992, in Singapore. On December 15, 2008, the members adopted a charter formed in November 2007 that would see the organization become a legal entity and also a free trade area of more than 500 million people. The enactment of the charter brought ASEAN closer to the European Union-like community.
The Purpose of the Formation of ASEAN
The ASEAN Declaration sets out to accelerate economic growth, social cohesion, and cultural development in the region. The organization also promotes political stability in individual countries and encourages collaboration on matters of mutual concern. Also, ASEAN focuses on utilization of better agricultural and industrial processes for the well-being of its citizens. ASEAN promotes Southeast Asian Studies by assisting each other in training and research facilities. Finally, the body maintains and promotes co-operation with international organizations that have similar aims and purposes.
The Present Economic Status of the ASEAN Countries
APSC, ASEAN Political-Security Community is the building block of the body. ASEAN established a free trade area on January 28, 1992, which promotes the free flow of goods within member states. Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and Cambodia had their timeframe of exercising that policy extended. Next, the organization created a single market and production base which gave them a competitive advantage in the world market and also promoted equitable regional development and integrated member states to the global economy. Countries like Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei have eliminated 99.65% tariffs, and the rest have reduced taxes by 98.86% as of 2010.
If ASEAN were an individual country, it would create the 7th largest economy in the world and 3rd largest in Asia with a GDP of $2.4 trillion as of 2013. Also, it is projected to be the 4th largest economy by 2050. Singapore, with a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.912, is the ASEAN destination of migration for skilled labor. Brunei also has a very high HDI with 0.856. ASEAN on average has a 0.673 HDI making Malaysia 0.779, Thailand 0.726, and Indonesia 0.684 HDIs slightly greater than the ASEA medium. The Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia have 0.668, 0.666, 0,575, and 0.555 HDI respectively. The lowest HDI is 0.536 found in Myanmar.
Promotion of Culture, Sport, and Tourism
ASEAN hosts cultural events like sports and education activities such as the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity to promote regional integration. There are also ASEAN Heritage Parks like the Kinabalu National Park that protect natural resources of the Region. In 2011, the ASEAN prime ministers decided to bid the FIFA World Cup host for 2030 as a single entity.
In tourism, the institutionalization of visa-free travel in the ASEAN region has promoted inter-ASEAN travel and hence tourism. By 2010, 43% of tourists in the ASEAN member states came from the ASEAN countries. The organization through its Sub-Committee on Tourism has managed to establish Promotion Chapters for Tourism in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, North America, the United Kingdom, and Germany. As of 2012, tourism accounted for an estimated 4.6% of ASEAN GDP directly and 10.9% indirectly. It employs about 9.3 million people and provides 25 million jobs linked to tourism.