SINGAPORE - Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Haruhiko Kuroda told ASEAN business leaders today that ASEAN can and should be an example to the group's Asian neighbors of how economic cooperation can improve regional integration.
"ASEAN is uniquely positioned to act as a de facto 'regional hub' of wider economic cooperation and integration within East Asia and eventually across Asia as a whole," Mr. Kuroda said in his speech at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' Business and Investment Summit.
Most subregions in Asia and the Pacific are making stronger efforts to cooperate among themselves. As this process continues, "bridges" naturally form across subregional boundaries, leading to progressively wider and more comprehensive economic integration and political cooperation.
The ADB President noted that the planned signing of the new ASEAN Charter is "probably the most important milestone in the evolution of the organization."
"The new Charter shifts ASEAN's institutional framework toward one that is more rules-based. Yet it remains sufficiently programmatic, acknowledging that national economic development and national priorities vary," said Mr. Kuroda.
He said that building the broad political and social consensus required for a far-reaching pan-Asian "vision" of regional integration would be difficult. "However, a market-friendly, pragmatic and multi-track approach to integration seems workable."
Mr. Kuroda stressed the importance of economic cooperation and integration for the region's development, saying that bridging the development gap between ASEAN countries would continue to be a key challenge.
He said the private sector must be an integral part of ASEAN efforts toward the establishment of an economic community in 2015.
"Public-private partnerships will be a critical component crossing all four pillars of regional cooperation and integration - that is: cross-border infrastructure, trade and investment, money and finance, and the provision of regional public goods such as environmental protection and prevention of pandemic illnesses."