According to the ASEAN Secretariat`s press release received here Wednesday, ASEAN aims to ensure no segment of the society is left out of the opportunity to benefit from ASEAN`s economic integration.
"ASEAN needs to address seriously the development gap so everyone can benefit from the integration," said the Secretary-General of ASEAN Surin Pitsuwan.
The renewed commitment was reaffirmed by the ASEAN Economic Ministers, who gathered in Vientiane last week for the 17th AEM Retreat.
Recognizing the development gap within some ASEAN Member States and within individual Member States, the Ministers also agreed to develop a framework.
With this framework, a set of guiding principles on narrowing these gaps premised on achieving the AEC by 2015 will be identified, taking into account specific and targeted technical assistance and capacity-building needs of ASEAN Member States, especially Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam.
The Meeting recognized that small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for more than 96 percent of all enterprises in ASEAN.
"A strong, dynamic and efficient SME sector will ensure not only the success of economic integration, but also social development for all," Surin said.
These SMEs are considered to provide 50-95 percent of the region`s employment, contribute 30-53percent to the gross domestic product and account for 19-31percent of all exports.
The Ministers also agreed to intensify engagement with the private sector, including business councils and industry associations, especially in the Priority Integration Sectors and SMEs.
Officials are now looking into more structured mechanisms for more effective private sector engagement.
"Private sector support in ASEAN community building process is key in ensuring that our business environment is conducive for them to operate and thrive and can bring in more trade and development within the region," said Surin.
The Ministers, furthermore, discussed the impediments of realizing the AEC and ways of addressing them, in addition to exchanging views on the AEC beyond 2015.
The Ministers also talked about developments on economic integration taking place in East Asia and agreed to ensure that ASEAN remains the driving force in the dynamic and evolving regional architecture.
The 17th AEM Retreat was chaired by Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu.(*)