SIEM REAP, Cambodia, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- ASEAN economic ministers agreed on Friday to deepen the bloc's integration efforts towards realizing an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, officials said.
Speaking in a press briefing on Friday evening after the week- long 44th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting and related meetings, Cambodian Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh said the meetings were wrapped up successfully and the ministers agreed to "deepen ASEAN integration" in order to achieve an ASEAN economic community in 2015.
He said that on its way to an ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, the bloc is still facing a number of challenges or local sensitivity that needs to be addressed.
"But we believe that with sound political input, some more political wills to be expressed by the leaders, those hesitations would be erased and would be less and less challenges for us to achieve the goal," said the minister, also the chair of 2012 ASEAN.
Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN secretary-general, said that ASEAN has done well in terms of soft infrastructure such as agreements, protocols, and various elements of cooperation and coordination among member states.
"So far, ASEAN has ratified about 72 to 73 percent of all the major instruments of cooperation among ASEAN," he told the press briefing. "Our remaining challenges are how to implement every of those instruments, and how to translate the regional ASEAN commitments into the national agenda implementation, rules, laws and regulations."
He expressed his confidence that ASEAN will be able to achieve an ASEAN Economic Community on schedule thanks to ASEAN's joint commitment and help from dialogue partners.
Indonesia's Trade Minister Gita Wijrawan said on the sidelines of the meeting on Tuesday that a joint commitment will make ASEAN be able to overcome those challenges.
"The scorecard has revealed a good percentage of the items ASEAN has fulfilled and completed towards the community building, but there is still a lot of work to be done," he said, adding that ASEAN needs to basically engage with private sectors and put more focus on connectivity.
After the week-long meetings, the economic ministers expressed their satisfaction with ASEAN's economic growth of 4.7 percent last year despite the heightened uncertainties in the global economy, according to a joint media statement on Friday.
They said that the positive but moderate economic growth was underpinned by resilient domestic demand, strong macroeconomic fundamentals, sound balance sheets of banks and the corporate sector, and on-going structural reforms since 1997.
"We are confident that our economic expansion would remain healthy this year, with projected GDP growth of between 5.2 percent and 5.9 percent," the ministers said in the statement.
The ministers were also pleased to note that ASEAN's merchandise trade grew at 16.8 percent from 2.05 trillion U.S. dollars in 2010 to 2.39 trillion U.S. dollars in 2011 despite the slowdown global trade, with intra-ASEAN trade remained strong at 598 billion U.S. dollars.
They said Japan was the top export destination, followed by China, the European Union, and the United States.
At the same time, export and import in services grew by about 10 percent in 2011. Travel, transportation, other business services, and financial services continue to be the top services export sectors.
They were also pleased that ASEAN maintained its position as one of the most attractive destinations for foreign direct investment (FDI), which reached 89.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2011.
The European Union remained the top source of FDI to ASEAN, accounting for approximately 25 percent of total inward FDI to ASEAN.
Japan and the United States were the second and third largest source of FDI, altogether accounting for 22.5 percent in total.
Intra-ASEAN investment grew at 23 percent in 2011, reaching 17. 5 billion U.S. dollars which accounted for 19.7 percent of total inward FDI into ASEAN.
In addition, they agreed to remain vigilant against downside risks such as further contraction of external demand caused by the sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone, fiscal problems in some developed economies, tighter global financing conditions, higher oil prices, and volatile global capital flows.
Founded in 1967, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.