New Zealand Embassy Manila, The Philippines

Integration Partnership Forum

The inaugural ASEAN-CER Integration Partnership Forum was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 25 June.  The forum is designed to complement the implementation process for the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, and also to provide a space for the lessons of the Australia-New Zealand integration experience to be shared with ASEAN as it works towards its goal of establishing an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015.

Tim Groser and Craig Emerson, the New Zealand and Australian ministers of trade, released the following statement just prior to the start of the forum.   

New ASEAN-CER Initiative

ASEAN’s journey to a single market has attracted the attention of Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard recognise that the Australia-New Zealand CER (Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement) experience – good and bad – might offer some useful insights for ASEAN as it tackles its own, highly ambitious, economic integration process.  

Realising the ambitions of ASEAN – a market of around 600 million people – presents strong regional and global economic opportunities. The two down-under Prime Ministers have therefore proposed a new informal dialogue, the ASEAN-CER Integration Partnership Forum, to share experiences of economic integration.

The Forum will hold its first seminar in Kuala Lumpur.  The meeting on June 25 will include presentations from senior figures in government, business and academia from Australia and New Zealand.

Against this background, CER and ASEAN are each advancing regional integration agendas.  In doing so, both regions have recognised that this is a powerful way for governments to enhance innovation, efficiency, productivity and growth.

Since CER was launched in 1983, the value of two-way merchandise trade has grown at an average annual rate of 8 percent.  Integration has generated wealth and ever-deeper integration.

This is why both countries are keen to get around the table with ASEAN to discuss the CER journey and share lessons about Trans-Tasman integration.

CER and ASEAN - the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - are both significant economic players, with a GDP of around US$1.4 trillion and US$1.9 trillion. Both regions are linked through a landmark ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA), which entered into force in 2010.

Some may question whether CER is directly relevant to ASEAN integration, given the differences between the two regions in terms of size, homogeneity of language, culture and history, and stages of development.

But New Zealand and Australia are not seeking to portray CER as a roadmap for the ASEAN Economic Community.   Put simply, we feel the pragmatic approaches that worked for us may also sit comfortably with ASEAN.  It is our hope that ASEAN will find this sort of conversation useful. 

There are some core themes among the lessons drawn from CER. 

First, regional integration is not a rapid process. The deep integration achieved between the Australian and New Zealand markets has come only after close to 30 years of the CER’s existence.  And it is nearly 50 years since the first formal agreement was signed.  ASEAN has a similar pedigree, since it was created in 1967.

Second, it takes vision and courageous leadership to make progress.  CER developed organically.  It worked best during periods of domestic economic reform and with strong, committed and imaginative political leadership.  Likewise, ASEAN, with determined and committed leadership, is currently well-placed to push ahead with integration. 

The CER agenda could not have moved ahead as far or as quickly as it did without the determined support of the Australasian business community.

Third, CER showed that the greatest gains lay in breaking down trade barriers behind the border.  CER’s current work programme seeks innovative and practical ways to reduce business costs and red tape, to create a true single economic market.

Above all, the greatest lesson that CER taught Australia and New Zealand is that regional economic integration enhances not just Trans-Tasman trade, but also companies’ international competitiveness.  That is essential in the current global economic climate, for ASEAN businesses as well as those in Australia and New Zealand.

The ASEAN Economic Community, like AANZFTA and CER, is fundamentally about trying to create an environment that makes it easier, more profitable and more predictable for companies to enter markets and do business.  The ASEAN-CER Integration Partnership Forum is an exciting opportunity to discuss how we can do that most effectively, whether for New Zealand, Australian or Southeast Asian businesses.


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