Excellency Prime Minister, Chair of the Meeting!
Your Majesty the Sultan, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!
At the outset, on behalf of the Royal government and the people of Cambodia, I would like to extend our congratulation to H.E. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on his assumption of the Chairmanship of this important 14th ASEAN Summit and thank Your Excellency for the warm hospitality extended to me and my delegation.
1- Implementation of the ASEAN Charter and Challenges
I am very pleased that we gather today not just to celebrate the full ratification of the ASEAN Charter, but also to witness the entering into force of the ASEAN Charter. This historical moment have ushered ASEAN into a new era— the Implementation Phase. I believe that this implementation would bring ASEAN to a new stage of community building process and a more rules-based, regional organization starting from January 2009. With the Charter as the roadmap, ASEAN is ready to engage more effectively with the world.
The implementation of the ASEAN Charter will also allow us to enhance the effectiveness of the ASEAN meetings at all levels through the restructured ASEAN institutions, including the institutionalization of two ASEAN Summits per year, the establishment of ASEAN Coordinating Council (ACC) and the Councils of the ASEAN Community, a larger role of ASEAN Secretary General and ASEAN Secretariat in collaboration with the permanent representatives of the ASEAN member states in Jakarta.
However, the issues of efficiency and effectiveness of ASEAN remain challenges for ASEAN at this implementation stage. For the future of ASEAN, I believe that while upholding the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of member state, ASEAN has to show also its ability to coordinate and address political and security issues related to bilateral relations of its members as this may affect regional integration and community building. Nevertheless, with our strong political will and joint utmost efforts, I believe that ASEAN can ensure its relevance in its efforts toward ASEAN community by 2015.
For the implementation of the ASEAN Charter, I am pleased to inform the meeting that Cambodia is actively finalizing institutional mechanisms as required by the Charter.
2- ASEAN Is Progressing Toward ASEAN Community
In pursuing the ASEAN Concord II (Bali Concord II), all our actions over the last few years have been geared toward the following three pillars’ objectives: (i) the ASEAN Security Community, (ii) the ASEAN Economic Community, (iii) the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, aiming to accelerate the establishment of an ASEAN community by 2015. In this regard, I highly commend the early adopted “the ASEAN Economic Community 2015 Blueprint” and the timely adoption of “the ASEAN Political-Security Community 2015 Blueprint” and “the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community 2015 Blueprint” and the Second IAI Work Plan (2009-2015) at this Summit, which constitutes a reliable Roadmap for an ASEAN Community. I am convinced that the timely implementation of the three Pillars’ Blueprint and of the 2nd IAI Work Plan will surely guide us toward the realization of the ASEAN Community by 2015.
In addition to the three pillars, while recognizing the strength and cohesiveness of ASEAN is pre-requisite for “One ASEAN with a well-balanced integrated entity”, indeed narrowing the development gap and ASEAN integration should remain our top priority in order to ensure the benefits of ASEAN integration are fully realized. Taking this opportunity, on behalf of the Royal Government and Cambodian people, I would like to express our sincere gratitude to all ASEAN member countries which have provided Cambodia with all kinds of support and assistance in the shared spirit toward a goal of reducing development gap within ASEAN.
As the problem of financing is the major concern for newer ASEAN members, I am of the view that the 2nd IAI Work Plan (2009-2015) should be well aligned with actions aimed to accelerate the integration process of both soft and hard components in order to realize of the three Community Blueprints. Thus, in addition to efforts devoted to capacity building and human resource development under the 1st IAI, the 2nd IAI Work Plan should give priority also to the development of infrastructure, which is also critical for deepening ASEAN integration and enhancing competitiveness as one community and a genuine, single market.
3- Response to Global Financial Crisis and Food Prices
While ASEAN is progressing on the path of community building, our region is also facing an unfavorable impact of the global financial crisis. There is no doubt that the current financial crisis as experienced in the United States and other developed countries have had negative impacts on our economies, although the impacts are less than the 1997 Asian financial crisis. So far our regional financial and banking sector remains healthy, nevertheless we are concerned about the risks of the pressure of the global environment on the region’s financial sector. This requires ASEAN member countries to enhance monitoring on the financial management and strengthening the early warning mechanism and surveillance in order to avoid any eventual crisis and ensure macroeconomic stability.
In this context, a closer financial cooperation should become our top priority. Relationships with the plus three countries have become critical not only for ASEAN integration process, but also for a joint response to the global financial crisis. During the last ASEM Summit in Beijing, the ASEAN+3 countries agreed that the impact of the financial crisis can be mitigated by expediting and improving the implementation of the Chiang Mai Initiative. Taking this opportunity, I would like to welcome and support the decision to increase the SWAP size among ASEAN Plus Three countries from US$80 billion to US$120 billion, in which the Plus Three countries is responsible for 80% while ASEAN is responsible for 20% as agreed recently by ASEAN+3 Finance Ministers’ Meeting on 22nd February 2009. Therefore, I think we should speed up implementation of the CMI multilateralization of swap arrangements. This self-help mechanism would well protect our region in the context of the current world financial crisis and future possible financial shock.
Though, our financial sector remains sound and safe, we are still concerned about the impact of the financial crisis and world economic recession on our real economy. The world economic recession can have negative impact on exports and garment and textile industry due to a decline of demand in the US and EU, which are the major export markets for ASEAN countries. Moreover, the reduced tourists and the fall of foreign investment into our region would have negative impact on employment and economic growth. This can have impact on the livelihood of the poor and vulnerable groups.
It has been said that “crisis goes along with opportunities”. The current global financial crisis presents opportunity for us to strengthen and expand cooperation and regional integration in order to maximize benefit from our great economic potentials through expanding the scale of regional market as well as trade and investment promotion in the region. This is important to minimize our overtly dependence on external markets and enhance our competitiveness in attracting investments from outside into the region.
4- Food Security
The steady increase in food prices has become a major concern for food security in each respective country and the ASEAN region. However, if looking from another angle, I would say that higher food prices also present opportunity for developing countries to increase investment in agriculture in order to boost productivity and export. The majority of ASEAN countries still have a huge potential for agricultural products. Maximizing the use of land for rice cultivation is one of the best solutions to food security. Specifically, Cambodia has about two million hectares of land for rice production. Its existing irrigation system can only cover 30 percent of the land. We have the potential to expand land to three million hectares for rice production. Moreover, Cambodia could cultivate about two to three times per year on the same land areas if we have enough water source and sufficient irrigation system. Therefore, I think that cooperation in rice and agricultural production and trade will provide food security and safety for the region and enhance livelihood of people in the region, most of them are farmers.
Thus, while the world is facing the present challenges, it is timely for us to work together to strengthen cooperation, accelerate and deepen integration by focusing on areas of finance, trade, investment promotion, physical infrastructure network linkage as well as agriculture and tourism.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate once again that we have confidently and resolutely taken a major step forward to embark on the “One ASEAN” based on the firm foundation of the ASEAN Charter. So, the next priority is to push our activities forward toward actual implementation of the three pillars blueprints in order to achieve fruitful and quick outcome according to all declarations, agreements and treaties that we have adopted together here and over time. Our constructive leadership is of vital importance as we are entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring an ASEAN Community by 2015 which is the high aspiration of our people.