The second Initiative for the ASEAN Integration (IAI) Development Cooperation Forum started in Hanol on Tuesday, aimed at narrowing the development gap among the block‘s new and old members, Vietnam News Agency reported.
Speaking to delegates from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Secretariat, and international organizations, the current chairman of the IAI Task Force, Lao Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said to achieve the "ASEAN Community" by 2015, the regional grouping would give priority to assisting new members, namely Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV).
Sisoulith said the decision is an ASEAN strategic objective that would bring benefits to the region and would reflect ASEAN‘s firm commitment to promote and maintain peace and stability in the region.
Addressing the two-day forum, entitled "Towards developing new strategies for narrowing the development gap in ASEAN," Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem said the implementation of the IAI had significantly progressed over the past few years, particularly in terms of human resources development, capacity building and regional integration.
However, the rich-poor divide within ASEAN remains wide and more work is needed to assist CLMV in fully integrating into the mainstream of ASEAN development, Khiem said, adding that the ASEAN Community would not be achieved if the development gap among member countries remains so large, and that bridging the divide must remain a long-term priority in order to build a dynamic, cohesive and integrated ASEAN.
Khiem suggested that IAI projects should focus on the urgent needs of CLMV in their efforts to improve national soft infrastructure; that IAI projects should be conducted in a coordinated and effective manner which brings sustained and long- term impacts on regional integration; and that adequate funding for IAI initiatives would needed.
Topping the agenda of the forum‘s talks included narrowing the development gap, the role of sub-regional frameworks such as Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) and Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), the role of ASEAN 6 (six ASEAN old members) and dialogue partners, as well as the role of supporting ASEAN entities and the private sector.
The ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Source: www.english.people.com (14 Juni 2007)