“The emergence of TPP, with 12 Members across the Pacific, among them 4 ASEAN Member States, poses, at the least, a psychological challenge to ASEAN. It should not, however, be taken as a threat to ASEAN’s own Economic Community (AEC). A couple more ASEAN states have expressed their interest to join. Thus ASEAN Community appears to be divided.

But in fact what the rest of the ASEAN members should do is to welcome it as an opportunity, an impetus, for all of us to work on our community building efforts with greater resolve. The crux of the matter is “competitiveness” ! We must integrate more effectively, consolidate our human and natural resources more urgently, enhance our competitiveness more determinedly, draw upon each other’s strength, cover each other’s weaknesses, reform our archaic laws, invest more in science, technology and innovation, improve on our intellectual property protection regime, raise the standards, quality and productivity of our goods and services—in other word, we need more “ASEAN,” not less of it. Then to join or not to join TPP is not a question. If we join from a position of strength, we will benefit. If we stay out, we can still compete because of our enhanced competitiveness and readiness.

We should concentrate perfecting our AEC. And get on with the work of a larger architecture, also ASEAN driven, ASEAN Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (ARCEP). Just consider the facts and figures. Once realized, ARCEP can compete, cooperate and complement TPP. Together, we can clearly see a Pacific Century evolving before our eyes!”

Surin Pitsuwan