Economic ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) kicked off a four-day meeting here on Thursday to discuss ways on how to further strengthen economic ties and integrate trade and investment in Southeast Asia.
"Our meeting this week is vital to the region's messaging on the success of ASEAN as a bloc. We have achieved critical mass to take ASEAN higher as our economies are growing faster than most of the rest of the world," said Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez at the opening ceremony of the 49th ASEAN Economic Ministers' Meeting and related Meetings.
He said it is expected that by 2050, the ASEAN economy will amount to over 9.2 trillion U.S. dollars, making it the fourth largest in the world.
Nevertheless, Lopez said there is still a lot of work to be done.
In 2017 and beyond, he said ASEAN "should be cognizant of the changing geostrategic landscape that presents both opportunities and challenges."
"As ASEAN economic ministers, we are gathered today to send a positive signal amid a backdrop of rising trade policy uncertainties," Lopez said, stressing the need to reaffirm the importance of integrating ASEAN into the regional and global economy.
He said ASEAN will maintain an open and outward-oriented perspective through free trade agreements (FTAs) with Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
ASEAN also has cooperation mechanism with dialogue partners such as Canada, the European Union and the United States.
As a formal community, the 10-nation ASEAN bloc wants to create more free movement of trade and capital in an area of 625 million people with a combined economic output of 2.6 trillion U.S. dollars.
The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) aims to achieve high economic growth in the region by increasing trade, investment and job creation.
Since the adoption of the AEC Blueprint 2025 last year and the Consolidated Strategic Action Plan (CSAP) in February this year, the Philippines wants to push for concrete measures that would further solidify the bloc's community building strategy.
The Philippines, which holds the ASEAN rotating chairmanship this year, wants ASEAN to pursue an "inclusive, innovation-led growth."
To achieve this goal, the Philippines stressed the need to further increase trade and investment, integrate the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the global value chains, and develop "an innovation-driven economy" within the 10-nation bloc.
The Philippines is also introducing inclusive business in ASEAN, mainstreaming women economic empowerment in AEC, and supporting cross-border trade and eco-system of entrepreneurship based on technology and innovation through e-commerce and the ASEAN declaration on innovation.
ASEAN ministers will also meet their counterparts from Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia, and the United States to exchange views on global and regional economic developments and discuss trade agreements and economic cooperation mechanisms with these partners.