“ASEAN Kicks-in the Next Phase of Regional Connectivity”, a Commentary by Sanchita Basu Das

Commentary 2016/60, 15 September 2016

At the 28th ASEAN Summit held recently in Vientiane, the region’s economic integration process advanced into its next phase. The Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025 was adopted to continue the aims expressed in MPAC 2010. This new plan concentrates on five strategic areas:

1. Sustainable infrastructure aims to bring together existing resources to provide holistic support for infrastructure projects, including project preparation, improving productivity, and capability building.

2. Digital innovation strives to harness the full potential of digital technologies by establishing regulatory frameworks to spur new digital services, cultivating a culture of sharing best practices on open data, and equipping MSMEs with the capabilities to access these new technologies.

3. Seamless logistics facilitates collaboration between logistics firms, academic institutions, and ASEAN members to identify bottlenecks across key areas of the region’s supply chains.

4. Regulatory excellence supports the implementation of key ASEAN integration policies by focusing on standards harmonisation, mutual recognition and technical regulations, as well as addressing trade distorting non-tariff measures.

5. People mobility focuses on enhancing intra-ASEAN mobility by improving the ease of travel for tourists, as well as promoting skills mobility by establishing high-quality qualification frameworks in critical vocational occupations, and encouraging the freer movement of intra-ASEAN university students.

MPAC 2025 is noteworthy for several reasons. First, it streamlines initiatives found in the initial plan and adds new ideas with consideration for uncertainties in the global economy. There is also an element of continuity. Of the 86 uncompleted projects from the previous plan, 52 will be continued and the rest dropped for having ‘no clear sectoral ownership’ or due to overlaps with other regional plans.

Second, the document mentions more precisely where different dimensions of connectivity fit into the ASEAN Community Blueprint. The five strategic areas are also mutually re-enforcing and tacks onto the priorities of the ASEAN Political-Security, Economic and Socio-Cultural communities.

Third, the implementation strategy now lays down comparatively clearer determinants for the implementation process and evaluation techniques. In addition, robust stakeholder engagement, ranging from external parties (dialogue partners, civil society, private sector and international organisation) to stakeholders at the regional (ASEAN Coordinating Connectivity Council, the ASEAN Secretariat) and national levels (National Coordinators, National Focal Points and Implementing Agencies), has been agreed for timely implementation.

Ms. Sanchita Basu Das is Fellow at the ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

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