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Economic ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to establish working groups on trade in goods, services, and investment that will look into removing impediments to the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015.

The ministers arrived at the decision during the 18th ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) Retreat in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on February 26.

Conscious of the need to act fast to keep pace with regional developments, they resolved to further intensify efforts to facilitate trade, services, and investment within ASEAN, and to address the impediments to market access of goods and services under one integrated market.

Now that tariffs within the region have been reduced to zero on 99.65 percent of the traded tariff lines for the ASEAN-6 and 98.86 percent for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, the ministers unanimously agreed it was time to look at the impediments at and behind the border.

“The only way to tackle these issues is through better engagement with the business sector, not only at the Ministerial level but also at the sectoral levels,” said Dr. Cham Prasidh, Senior Minister and Minister of Commerce of Cambodia.

The ministers noted that the foreign-based multinational corporations (MNCs) and associations were more forthcoming and focused with solid issues of interest in their business community.

The ministers also plan to call on ASEAN-based organisations to be proactive and voluble in raising concerns.

“We also need to find a way on how to create the space for the young, active, and enthusiastic business persons in ASEAN—who will probably be more upfront in raising issues, as the younger generation can better relate to ASEAN,” stated Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN.

At this retreat, the ministers further endorsed key deliverables for 2012.

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