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Many businesses unaware of ASEAN Economic Community

ASEAN is one year away from its target of achieving a single market but recent surveys suggest that many businesses are unaware of that plan.

SINGAPORE: ASEAN is one year away from its target of achieving a single market but recent surveys suggest that many businesses are unaware of that plan.

About half of respondents polled in two separate surveys said they had not even heard of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

Business groups in Singapore are doing their bid to change that.

The AEC, the regional bloc's pet project, promises freer movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labour and capital flow.

But ASEAN's efforts at economic integration may have gone under the radar.

A survey by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies found that 55 per cent of some 380 firms polled across the region were not aware of the AEC.

And Singapore companies had the highest level of ignorance - at 86 per cent.

The numbers in a separate survey by the Singapore Business Federation were less staggering.

About 38 per cent out of some 1,000 of its members polled were ignorant - with a higher percentage for small- and medium-sized enterprises than bigger firms.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit said: "When you ask the small companies what it (AEC) is, even asking them to identify the 10 ASEAN countries, they may have difficulty (doing it).

"So you need to educate (them). You need to put it in layman terms (such as) 'what does it mean for you if you are a manufacturer of goods?' 'What does it mean for you in terms of your market access in specific country?'"

The federation is doing its bid by holding AEC seminars for businesses.

And the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises is exploring the creation of ASEAN networks of Singaporean businesses to provide local firms with know-how and help to tap on the AEC.

However, sticking points, like non-tariff barriers and obstacles in liberalising services trade, are hampering the AEC's progress.

UOB senior economist Suan Teck Kin said: "ASEAN members, they are quite wary of opening up their sectors, services - we are talking about, for instance, banking services, insurance, telecommunications...All those are sectors which are still facing a bit of a resistance or a lot more work (needs) to be done."

Many observers do not expect full integration of ASEAN economies by 2015.

But even if that is the case, partial integration is expected to yield considerable benefits for businesses.

Experts say the manufacturing and food and beverage sectors are just a few which can benefit from freer trade in goods as a result of partial integration.
 

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