Formed in 1967 by the governments of Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is an intergovernmental organisation that now includes Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and Brunei. The combined population of ASEAN is 576 million (equal to 8.7 per cent of the world population), with a combined GDP of £0.8 trillion (U.S. figure) in 2007. The organisation's goals are to promote development in Southeast Asia while providing a peaceful forum to settle differences.
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Elimination of Tariffs
Established in 1992 as one of the main pillars of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, AFTA set a time frame for all ASEAN members to eliminate trade tariffs amongst member-states as a means to make the trade bloc more internationally competitive. The earliest signatories (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Brunei) saw a 99.11 per cent drop in tariffs after the treaty went into full force in 2003.
Rural Development and Poverty Eradication
Certain ASEAN member states, such as Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, are defined by the United Nations as "least developed nations," while others, such as Singapore and Brunei, are considered fully developed by international standards. One of the stated goals of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement is to reduce poverty while bringing member states into a state of full development. For example, ASEAN encourages the proliferation of information and computer technology (ICT) in rural, underdeveloped communities.
Preserving Peace and Stability
An an annual forum consisting of all the ASEAN members, plus other observers from Asia and the Pacific region, aims for "promoting peace and security through dialogue and cooperation." Intended to provide a venue for multilateral and bilateral discussion, this forum works to reduce tension amongst member states while preserving the Free Trade Agreement.
Protecting the Mekong
ASEAN formed the Mekong Basin Development Cooperation as a cooperative effort to sustainably develop the Mekong Basin. The Mekong River, which flows through five of the 10 ASEAN member states, is a fragile ecosystem that could be easily damaged by the actions of a single member state (runoff from pesticides in Thailand, for instance, can have ramifications for Cambodia's fish stocks). By developing the Mekong Basin Development Cooperation, ASEAN aims to reconcile conservation efforts with economic development while living up to the promises of the Free Trade Agreement.
Originally established in 1976 and re-established in 2002, the ASEAN Committee on Women focuses on incorporating the roles of women into free trade-oriented social and economic development. ASEAN's work on women's rights is guided by two main documents: The Work Plan for Women's Advancement and Gender Equality (2005-2010) and The Work Plan to Operationalise the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (2006-2010).
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