The 16th summit of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) ended in Hanoi last Friday with a pledge to broaden implementation of the bloc's cooperation pacts over the next five years, a move expected to provide a significant boost to regional economies.
As the leaders signed off on the pledge, free trade across much of Southeast Asia was marking its first 100 days. Implemented on Jan. 1, the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) is off to a promising start, although it has also won its fair share of critics in recent months.
AFTA's initial target was to eliminate import duties by this year on almost all products among ASEAN's six original members -- Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei and Singapore. The bloc's newer members -- Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam -- will sign on in 2015, when the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will formally arrive with a market of 600 million people and a combined GDP of $1.5 trillion.