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Political turmoil challenge to regional economic integration: Lee Yi Shyan

The political unrest in some neighbouring countries could be a stumbling block to economic integration in the region, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan said on Wednesday (May 28).

SINGAPORE: The political unrest in some neighbouring countries could be a stumbling block to economic integration in the region, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan said on Wednesday (May 28).

Speaking at the ASEAN Economic Community forum, Mr Lee said the unrest makes it difficult for members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, to focus on working towards integrating their economies by next year.

Another challenge to economic integration is non-tariff barriers, which can have as much impact as tariffs in restricting trade flows, he said. These non-tariff barriers range from complex import licensing procedures to ineffective implementation of existing policies.

The ongoing political turmoil in the region may have taken a toll on business and consumer sentiments as well, he noted.

However, Mr Lee said he remains positive about the medium to long term growth prospects of ASEAN. One key driver of growth is the region’s demographics, with consumers in ASEAN markets becoming increasingly affluent, he said.

To help local businesses venture into other ASEAN markets, Singapore will provide dedicated government assistance, Mr Lee said.

More companies are expected to look to ASEAN as a consumption and production base, with people in the region becoming increasingly affluent. As purchasing power grows, consumer demand for goods and services will increase in tandem.

Robert Yap, chairman and chief executive of YCH Group, said: "We are in the business of supply chain management. So, in trying to manage the supply chains of some of the very big multinational companies, one single market and one single production base actually is very important for good supply chain optimisation and planning. So in that area, I think we are taking advantage of that opening up."

Analysts don't expect full economic integration to be achieved by 2015. But member nations are already working to implement ASEAN-wide trade facilitation initiatives that will allow speedier cargo clearance of goods.

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