ASEAN pushes for further economic integration

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Cebu City (CNN Philippines, April 7) — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will push for further integration -- despite many other countries closing up their borders.

Finance ministers and central bank governors were in Mactan, Cebu this week, and on top of the agenda were the reforms needed to bring the ASEAN closer to its goal of forming a single market by 2025.

"More extensive cooperation and more intensive integration have been beneficial to the economies of this dynamic region," Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez said in a speech on Thursday.

"Over the longer term, we envision an ASEAN Economic Community that will provide a strong drive for growth among ourselves and for global growth."

Integration will also be a buffer for the ASEAN at a time of deep uncertainty in the world economy. As Western developed nations turn protectionist, ASEAN Deputy Secertary-General Lim Hong Hin said Southeast Asia could turn to intra-regional trade.

ASEAN's new frontier

This year, the ASEAN summit looked beyond typical problem areas of the region, such as infrastructure gaps and trade barriers. It also focused on new growth areas: consumer markets, e-commerce, financial inclusion and sustainable development.

Laurence Cua, Uber Philippines general manager, welcomed this change of direction.

In a dialogue between ASEAN officials and investors, he said people were "excited" about the prospects of technology firms in a region with young, growing populations.

"They've seen the growth potential in other parts of the world - and in particular, China. That gives us, as members of the ASEAN, an inspiration on what our economies might look like if we also embrace technology, payment platforms, and other innovative ways to do business," Cua said in an interview on Thursday.

E-commerce, however, goes hand in hand with electronic payment systems. People must be able to settle their transactions online, he pointed out. More than that, he said it's also a safer, faster, and more convenient way to transact.

Financial technology was on the agenda in the joint meeting of ASEAN's finance ministers and central bank governors on Friday.

"We also see the increasing role of financial technology and development in the integration process, and how it can reshape the conduct and provision of traditional financial services," Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando Tetangco, Jr. said during his opening remarks.

He cautioned, though: "While we encourage innovations, we're also cognizant of the challenges related to cyber security."

For Euben Paracuelles, Nomura senior economist, there is a delicate balance to regulation. Policies often need to catch up to the pace of innovation of disruptive businesses. But it can also be overzealous and cramp growth.

"Consumer businesses like transport and retail have proliferated because regulation has been lean," Paracuelles said in a briefing on Friday.

"However, there is regulation creeping in, like Singapore's added restrictions on Uber. That can be worrying."