Serious thought needs to go into AEC integration

opinion April 20, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

Boosting trade is one thing, but planners also need to ponder organised crime and trafficking when devising new protocols

Thailand is looking to engage in a more seamless region as the deadline for Asean Economic Community (AEC) integration approaches.
All sorts of ideas have been floated but what this means in real terms is still up in the air for many people. 
To welcome the AEC, the national flag of each of the 10 Asean members have been put up in many public schools and more and more people are taking a closer look at the various languages used in the region. 
Malay, for example, is seen as the language of commerce, as more than 50 per cent of people in Southeast Asia speak the language in various dialects and forms. 
People-to-people contact is expected to be more vigorous with the AEC, although much, much more can be done in this matter judging from the kind of insults and abusive language we throw out at our neighbours. 
While the social-political sphere of the region may move closer at its own pace, the country’s business sector, on the other hand, is working hard to make sure that they are not left behind by the rest of the region. 
Reducing costs and risk while improving efficiency appears to be the theme and strategy the business sector is looking for. 
In this respect, some are calling for the business sector to concentrate more on cross-border and trilateral trading among countries with connected borders under the AEC.
Under the supposedly seamless market, it is predicted that Thailand’s border trade with neighbouring countries is expected to double to Bt2 trillion after regional integration.
Niyom Wairatpanij, chairman of the Economic Cooperation with Neighbouring Countries Committee under the Board of Trade, predicted that border trade between Thailand and its four immediate neighbours, as well as trilateral trade among countries such Singapore, China and Vietnam, should increase significantly once full integration is achieved.
While physical infrastructure like paved roads are ready to link Thailand to its immediate neighbours and beyond, regulations and specific details surrounding customs and border trade have yet to be worked out.
Bilateral and trilateral trade should be one of the country’s key priorities as it costs less and can help ease local companies’ entry into international commerce.
One not need be reminded how corruption and the lack of law enforcement around the border areas, as well as along remote roads linking Thailand to China via Laos and Myanmar, have hampered trade. 
Handing over a pack of cigarettes used to get people past these checkpoints, but not any more. With more trade going along these remote roads, one can be sure the “tea money” will also go up.
It’s easy to paint a nice and rosy picture about the region and use fancy words like ‘connectivity’ to describe the task at hand. But Thai goods 
will be transported through some lawless regions ripe with human trafficking, smuggling, the illicit drug trade and arms smuggling. 
Have you ever wondered how hundreds of Chinese prostitutes ended up in the Sadao district bordering Malaysia? Or about the difficulties behind attempts to crack down on foreign crime syndicates in Phuket and Pattaya because they don’t have the cooperation of local police?
In some ways, these crime syndicates appear to be more efficient than legal entities.
What the Asean leaders agree on paper is one thing. Perhaps these officials should visit trade routes and see what people will be up against when they move their goods through these areas.

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