The association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok by the five founder member countries-Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Brunei Darussalam joined on 8 January 1984.The ASEAN region today has a population of about 500 million, a total area of 4.5 million square kilometers with a combined gross domestic product of US$ 737 billion, and a total trade of US$ 720 billion.
The ASEAN Declaration states that the aims and purposes of the Association are(i) to accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavors in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian nations, and (ii) to promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries in the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter.
The highest decision-making organ of ASEAN is the meeting of the ASEAN is the Meeting of the ASEAN Heads of the state and government held each year. The ASEAN Ministerial Meeting also held on an annual basis deliberates on a number sectors such as Agriculture and Forestry, Economics, Energy, Environment, Finance, Information, Investment, Labor, Law, Regional Haze, Rural Development and Poverty Alleviation, science and technology, Social Welfare, Transnational Crime, Transportation, Tourism, Youth, the AIA Council and, the AFTA Council, supporting these ministerial bodies are 29 committees of senior officials and 122 technical working groups. To support the conduct of ASEAN’s external relations. ASEAN has established committees composed of heads of diplomatic missions in them following capitals: Brussels, London, Paris, Washington D.C, Tokyo, Canberra, Ottawa, Wellington, Geneva, Seoul, New Delhi, New York, Beijing, Moscow, and Islamabad. ASEAN has several specialized bodies and arrangements promoting inter-governmental cooperation in various fields such as importantly higher/university education; business management; energy, commerce and industry, Furthermore, there are 53 Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which have formal affiliations with ASEAN.
When ASEAN was established, trade among the member countries was insignificant. Estimates between 1967 and the early 1970s showed that the share of intra-ASEAN trade from the total trade of the Member Countries was between 12 and 15 per cent. Thus, some of the earliest economic cooperation schemes of ASEAN were aimed at addressing this situation. One of these was the preferential trading arrangement (PTA) of 1977, which accorded tariff preferences for trade among ASEAN economies. Ten years later, an Enhanced PTA programme was adopted at the Third ASEAN Summit in Manila further increasing intra-ASEAN trade.
The Framework Agreement on Enhancing Economic Cooperation was adopted at the Fourth ASEAN Summit in Singapore in 1992, which included the lunching of a scheme toward an ASEAN Free Trade Area or AFTA. The strategic objective of AFTA is to increase the ASEAN region’s competitive advantage as a single production unit. The elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers among the member countries is expected to promote greater economic efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness. The Fifth ASEAN Summit held in BANGKOK in 1995 adopted the Agenda for Greater Economic Integration, which included the acceleration of the timetable for the realization of AFTA from the original 15-year timeframe to 10 years.
In additional to trade and investment liberalization, regional economic integration is being pursued through the development of Trans-ASEAN transportation network consisting of major inter-state highway and railway networks, principal ports and sea lanes for maritime traffic, inland waterway transport, and major civil aviation links. ASEAN is promoting the interoperability and interconnectivity of the national telecommunications equipment and services. Building of Trans-ASEAN energy networks, which consist of the ASEAN Power Grid and the Trans-ASEAN Gas Pipeline Projects, are also being developed.
ASEAN cooperation has resulted in greater regional integration. Within three years from the launching of AFTA, exports among ASEAN countries grew from US$ 43.26 billion in 1993 to almost US$ 80 billion in 1996, an average yearly growth rate of 28.3 per cent. In the process, the share of intra-regional trade from ASEAN’s total trade rose from 20 per cent to almost 25 per cent. Tourists from ASEAN countries themselves have been representing an increasingly important share of tourism in the region. In 1996, of the 28.6 million tourist arrivals in ASEAN economic cooperation covers the following areas: Trade, Investment, Industry, Services, Finance, Agriculture, Forestry, Energy, Transportation and Communication, Intellectual property, Small and Medium Enterprises, and Tourism.