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It’s the time of the year again when ASEAN heads of states will rub shoulders, indulge in polite small talk so as to not to offend each other, do lots of handshakes and wrap up the meeting not having ironed out thorny issues.
But next week’s ASEAN summit, hosted by Malaysia, may be a bit different and significant because the regional group will try to hammer out the ASEAN Economic Community’s all four pillars of integration to avoid further delay.
The ASEAN Economic Community, which aims to create a single market and production base, is scheduled to be rolled out at the end of 2015.
While member countries will become more closely linked in terms of economy, political security and socio-cultural pillars, the ASEAN Economic Community will benefit and promote the interests of multinational corporations, big businesses and regional elite.
Put differently, the ASEAN Community promotes Business ASEAN.
This integration strategy neglects the interests of the majority of ASEAN’s citizens including workers, farmers, small business and fishermen.
At present, citizens of ASEAN are confronted with loss of livelihood, loss in labor protection, low wages and escalating food prices.
In addition, ASEAN member nations are facing widening income and wealth inequality.
As such we ask that Malaysia, as the chair of ASEAN, promotes the notion of a Social ASEAN at the summit.
The current ASEAN Economic Community involves integration of ASEAN economies through market-centered liberalization of trade in goods, services and investment and movement of skilled labour.
And the ASEAN socio-economic pillar tasked to promote and protect the rights of people has failed to address the critical social issues facing ASEAN.
The theme of the 2015 ASEAN Summit is ‘Towards a People Centered ASEAN’.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak in the 2014 handing over speech in Naypyidaw indicated, “Asean’s continued economic growth, the fruits of development should be felt by the people and touch their lives”.
The Prime Minister further added that “We hope to steer Asean closer to the people of South-East Asia: to make this institution part of their daily lives by creating a people-centred Asean”.
Clearly, we need an ASEAN integration process; one that is fair and creates opportunities for all. And specifically, growth in the region must be accompanied by the development of economic and social policies that benefit people.
In this context, Najib needs to push for a strong social dimension to the economic integration of the region, as it would promote the interests of the majority.
An Agenda for a Social ASEAN inter-alia promotes the following: ILO core labour standards, social protection, strengthening social dialogue and affordable access to food, health care, social services, housing and education in all ASEAN member countries.
In addition it requires ASEAN-wide legally binding domestic laws and appropriate polices, institutions and enforcement mechanisms to implement the 2013 ASEAN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and Elimination of Violence against Children.
Regional integration has potential for good, but it has to be fair and its benefits must be experienced by the people.
This requires ASEAN governments to forge a balance between the Social and Business ASEAN.
Malaysian Trades Union Congress,
N. Gopal Kishnam,
ASEAN TRADES UNION CONGRESS (ATUC)
COMMITTEE FOR ASIAN WOMEN (CAW)
ASIA FLOOR WAGE ALLIANCE (AFWA)
Address: Wisma MTUC,10-5, Jalan USJ 9/5T, 47620 Subang Jaya,Selangor | Tel: 03-80242953 | Fax: 03-80243225 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org