Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announced on Friday that his nation suggests finalizing a free trade agreement between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
He emphasized the importance of this agreement in promoting forward-looking, all-encompassing, and environmentally responsible economic development, especially as we navigate the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and contend with geopolitical uncertainties. This statement was made during his address at the ASEAN-GCC Summit in Saudi Arabia on Friday.
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The ASEAN, a coalition of ten nations with a collective population exceeding 600 million, has long aimed to enhance economic integration by fostering trade, and investment, and aligning standards and customs procedures among its member states. Nevertheless, the process of negotiating free trade agreements has been slow, with certain member countries, particularly those heavily reliant on exports, independently pursuing improved access to their vital markets.
ASEAN is also a participant in the Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.
Anwar noted that the ASEAN-GCC relations have made significant progress since their inception in 1990 and that the level of ambition in their interactions has increased.
The summit was a historic event and was formally inaugurated by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the leader of ASEAN for the current year, co-hosted the summit along with the Crown Prince. It summit brought together two prominent blocs, comprising the 10 ASEAN member states and six GCC members, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.
Anwar emphasized that the adoption of the Joint Statement and the accompanying Framework of Cooperation at the summit would serve as a testament to the strength of ASEAN-GCC relations. He also mentioned that the wide-ranging nature of their well-established and extensive relations is evident in the multitude of issues addressed in the adopted documents.
For an extended period, the ASEAN, comprising ten countries with a collective population exceeding 600 million, has been working towards economic integration. This integration involves facilitating trade, investment, standardization, and harmonization of customs procedures among its member nations. The combined economic worth of these countries is approximately $2.3 trillion.