Asia Needs Pan-Regional Institutions for Integration, ADB Panel Says

News Release | 1 May 2010

TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN - Increasing interdependence within Asian economies suggests the region should strengthen its institutional architecture to cement recent gains, broaden integration, and ensure that regional and global processes remain compatible and mutually reinforcing, a seminar audience heard today.

The seminar was held at the Asian Development Bank's (ADB) 43rd Annual Meeting in Tashkent, Uzbekistan to discuss the findings of ADB's new flagship study "Institutions for Regionalism: Enhancing Cooperation and Integration in Asia and the Pacific."

"ADB has a dream, which I believe is shared by many of the region's leaders. It is a dream of a truly integrated yet globally connected Asia," ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda said in remarks to open the seminar. He pointed to the goal of shaping a "seamlessly linked" Asia where people, capital, goods, and services can move freely across borders and a region that "tackles challenges together, in a collegial manner, with common purpose."

"To make this dream come true, Asia needs to restructure its institutional architecture for economic cooperation," Mr. Kuroda said, ultimately strengthening its institutions that promote regionalism.

The ADB study finds that while there is a dense web of institutions for regionalism in Asia and the Pacific, these need to receive considerably more powers, as national governments are still reluctant to transfer part of their sovereignty. Pan-Asian institutions are also needed to address specific issues, such as maintaining financial stability or tackling environmental degradation, and to ensure that existing obligations and commitments are implemented uniformly across the region.

Former Thai Finance Minister, Chalongphob Sussangkarn, echoed Prof. Barry Eichengreen of the University of California, Berkeley - both speaking at the seminar - on the importance of the recently announced multilateralization of the Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI) among ASEAN+3 countries, which can be seen as an embryonic form of an Asian Monetary Fund. After agreeing on voting shares and financial contributions last year, ASEAN+3 Finance Ministers have recently agreed to establish a regional surveillance agency to be located in Singapore.

Isher Judge Ahluwalia, Chairperson, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, stressed that the integration process should be comprehensive, stretching beyond East Asia, and suggested expanding CMI to include India and other South Asian and Central Asian countries.

Given the need to increase connectivity across Asia's subregions and to fill the massive infrastructure gap that threatens to undermine economic development, the ADB study suggested setting up a pan-Asian forum focused on developing regional infrastructure. Experts estimate that the region needs to spend $8 trillion over the next 10 years on critical transport, utilities, and other infrastructure.