Delegates pose for a group photo during the opening ceremony of the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Ministers' meeting and related meetings held in Singapore on Aug. 29, 2018. The ASEAN economic ministers' meeting and related meetings kicked off here on Wednesday, with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong calling on member states to continue strengthening regional economic cooperation and integration. (Xinhua/Then Chih Wey)
SINGAPORE, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) -- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economic ministers' meeting and related meetings kicked off here on Wednesday, with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong calling on member states to continue strengthening regional economic cooperation and integration.
In his speech at the opening ceremony, Lee said the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is a prime example of how a united ASEAN is much larger than the sum of its parts.
According to Lee, ASEAN is forecast to become the fourth-largest economy in the world by 2030.
But he added that ASEAN is facing growing geopolitical uncertainties, including the escalating trade tensions between the United States and other dialogue partners of ASEAN and the under-pressure rules-based multilateral trading system.
Therefore, Lee called on ASEAN member states to stay united, strive to maintain their cohesion and effectiveness, and press on with regional economic integration and fully implement the AEC Blueprint 2025.
Lee also said the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations have reached a critical stage, and after a great deal of work, the possibility of substantively concluding the RCEP talks is finally in sight.
"Given the diversity of RCEP's members, we all have to make trade-offs and compromises," he said, adding that "but we should weigh these against the significant strategic and economic value of RCEP."
Therefore, Lee encourages RCEP countries to take a long term view, keep up the momentum, engage constructively and with maximum flexibility, so that they can deliver a high quality RCEP agreement this year.
Singapore's Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in his welcome remarks that the 30th ASEAN economic ministers' meeting and related meetings are important for the AEC, because ASEAN member states are expected to achieve fruitful outcomes as they renew their existing efforts, and undertake additional commitments to strengthen the AEC and foster deeper partnerships with the dialogue partners.
"This will serve as a bulwark against unilateralism and protectionism and keep us on a path towards growth, progress and prosperity for all our peoples," he added.