CEBU (Philippines), Jan 13: Southeast Asian leaders agreed at their annual summit on Saturday to create a tighter political bloc, turn their region into a free-trade zone by 2015 and fight harder against terrorism and poverty.
In a major break with its consensus-based past, the 10-country body has agreed to discuss a plan for a more cohesive organisation able to sanction — or even expel — members that do not follow its rules.
The leaders also signed a counter-terrorism pact legally binding their countries to share information, and allowing for joint training aimed at stemming terror and cross-border crime.
They agreed on the protection of millions of migrant workers, and vowed to shift energy use from fossil fuel to biofuels.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stressed the need to bolster free trade within Asean, which was created in 1967. “ASEAN is committed to expanding its trade forum to become the largest in the world,” Arroyo said while opening the meeting, held under heavy security days after three deadly explosions in the southern Philippines.
The leaders want to establish the free trade zone by 2015, five years earlier than previously proposed.
The six richer nations — such as wealthy Singapore and oil-rich Brunei — will start the integration process in 2010, with the others following by 2015.
China, Japan and South Korea, set to take part in an expanded summit on Sunday with Asean’s six “dialogue partners,” hope to join the Southeast Asian grouping’s economic circle. The other dialogue partners are Australia, New Zealand and India.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said implementing the objectives will be a challenge, and that while there was support for the general idea, not everyone agreed that penalties should be included.