UN Investment in ASEAN More Important Than Ever?

Isma Aiman

Let shaking hands be the start of further mutual benefits ahead

Let shaking hands be the start of further mutual benefits ahead

Is it the end of potential growth for businesses in Asia? In recent times, we can see the decline of China’s GDP growth from a staggering 14.2% in 2007 to a mere 7.7% at the end of 2013. Not to mention rumours that after the official data for 2014, a further fall is also projected. Looking at the other Asian superpower, India, we might be wary to invest there.

Their GDP fluctuates for the past few years to an uncertain level; from a mere 3.9% in 2008, up to a spike of 10.3% in 2010, and down to 5.0% in 2013. Furthermore, with the recent change in its leadership, Narendra Modi, things look uncertain in India’s future.

However, recent studies show that another part of Asia had enjoyed an increase in its statistics; South East Asia. We can see in its GDP earnings in 2013 was $2.4 trillion; that’s more than India’s $1.8 trillion. Its GDP growth in 13 years had also been the second highest, at 373%. With a consumer base of almost 626 million, this makes the small region of islands look attractive to its investors.

ASEAN or Association of South East Asian Nations had planned to unleash its new strategy, called the ASEAN Economic Community or AEC by the end of 2015. This could further develop the 10 member nations of ASEAN to a further higher economic growth. ASEAN boasts a lot of low-cost areas like Cambodia and highly developed economic centres like Singapore. There are also areas with diverse cultural traditions, relatively low cost of living and rich natural resources. The best part is that all of them are bundled up in this small region. So, they have lots of potential waiting to be harvested.

However, the dormant beast has some few restraints on it. Firstly, the nations in this association have too distinct cultures and social norms that cripple any integration whatsoever. Secondly, there are too many red tapes that restrict any movement of capital such as bureaucracy, protectionism and non-tariff barriers.

What’s so special about ASEAN countries to the United Nations’ eyes? United Nations had always been keen on ASEAN countries. They had a few UN-ASEAN summits. UNESCO has 33 World Heritage Sites located solely in the South East Asian countries, with the exception of Brunei and Singapore which have none. UN also had many involvements with ASEAN integral to their hopes of peacekeeping and making the world a better place.

An exemplary achievement was the tripartite core agreement made between the Government of Myanmar, UN and ASEAN following Cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar in May 2008. The Tripartite Core Group (TCG) was formed to coordinate aid and assistance efforts. Requiring smooth-sailing logistics in a complicated political environment, the relief and recovery efforts were successfully executed under TCG. Efforts involved delivering aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars to more than two million people and assessing the needs of victims in areas affected by Cyclone Nargis. Needless to say, TCG promises further cooperation between the UN and ASEAN. The rest of the world could also learn from this example.

How can the United Nations help ASEAN to be a developed economic bloc that can benefit both investors and the people living in it? For starters, UN can help reduce non-humanitarian acts happening in ASEAN countries like human trafficking, unfair trading practices with its relentless avocations. UN can also help bolster the nations by invoking holistic growth through the human development programme in ASEAN countries that need help. UN also needs to engage with ASEAN leaders so that they can make better policies for the nations as a whole.

South Asia, East Asia and Pacific make up about 33% of world poverty – more than a quarter. It goes without saying that if more help is given to this region, the effect would trickle down other areas of the world living in extreme poverty. As a consequence, the UN would be moving much closer to achieving its Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty rates by the end of this year. An investment worth undertaking, perhaps?