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Adopt the Agenda for a Social ASEAN guaranteeing social dimension in the ASEAN integration

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Year 2017 marks the 50th Founding Anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This is also the second year since the ten member countries of ASEAN launched in 2015 the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) -- an ambitious plan designed to integrate the diverse economies of the region. The stated aim is for ASEAN to operate a formidable regional economic bloc, successfully integrated in the global economy, and able to reap its benefits and share in its prosperity.

Although the idea of shared prosperity sounds nice on paper, the reality on the ground suggests that the AEC framework is tilted towards serving business interests. In such a scheme, markets and profits are prioritised over the needs and rights of the people. 

The ASEAN integration process is influenced by regional neoliberal interests affirmed by free trade agreements. Big businesses and transnational corporations are its main drivers and beneficiaries.

Market liberalisation,deregulation and privatisation have led to the loss of traditional livelihoods and means of survival, and further exploitation of workers. They have also led to diminished public access to affordable essential services, such as electricity, water, healthcare, and education.

Thus, while most of Southeast Asia have enjoyed economic boom, many people continue to experience rising joblessness and social insecurity, increasing poverty and vulnerability, widening inequality, and life-threatening impacts of severe environmental degradation.

Social ASEAN: The Missing Link in ASEAN Integration

We urge ASEAN governments to embrace a broader conception of regional integration by including the perspectives of ordinary women, men, and vulnerable communities aspiring for a better quality of life, improved standard of living, and a life of dignity.

Specifically, we call for ASEAN governments to adopt a social dimension to regional integration. We propose the notion of a Social ASEAN – where sustainable jobs, workers’ rights, universal healthcare, education, water, energy, social security and affordable housing are integral components to the integration effort.

While ASEAN has committed to forming a socio-cultural community in addition to an economic one, the specific outlines of the social dimension of integration are vague. Economic integration is consistently prioritized over any social protection measure or benefit.

The ASEAN integration process cannot be a zero sum game where those at the top reap all the rewards.

All people in the region must be able to benefit from the regional integration process. It must create opportunities for all. We believe that adopting a truly meaningful social dimension in ASEAN’s economic integration process will better address the demands of various stakeholders and interests in the region.

The need to incorporate a social dimension in ASEAN’s integration process is urgent. Integration efforts are taking place at a time when ASEAN member states are signing a slew of new free trade agreements. This includes mega-trade pacts led by the United States and Chine – namely, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

A social dimension in the integration process guarantees that people’s needs and rights will be promoted, protected, and incorporated in trade agreements and other economic decisions. These agreements that are designed to liberalise our economies and regulate governments could otherwise unleash negative consequences for the people of the region.

The notion of a Social ASEAN is therefore collectively formulated by the people of ASEAN and their organisations, and reflects their aspirations and demands in the context of regional integration.

Defining Social ASEAN

A Social ASEAN is one where people’s rights and demands stand above markets and profits, and where the benefits of regional integration are distributed in a fair manner between varying stakeholders.

A Social ASEAN calls on all ASEAN governments, socially responsible employers, trade unions, NGOs, and grassroots organisations to respect, promote, and realise, the core demands of a Social ASEAN, namely:

a)      To institute democratic and participatory processes at national and regional levels;

b)      To ensure gender equality and protect vulnerable and disadvantaged groups;

c)      To realise access to essential social services, especially universal healthcare, and social protection for all;

d)      To fulfill the right to food and productive resources, and

e)      To adopt all ILO core labor standards.

Building a Social ASEAN obliges governments to become more inclusive and accountable and to work for all citizens. Governments actively working with civil society can create a win-win situation, where people’s interests and rights, social justice, sustainable development, and a life of dignity can be collectively realized.

(Read full text of the Agenda for a Social ASEAN at )

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