Leaders call for action at Asian economic cooperation summit

BANGKOK - Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday issued a rallying call to Asian leaders to build their economies and become more than a "small blip" on the radar screens of the rest of the world.

By (AFP)

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Published: Sun 1 Aug 2004, 10:23 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 11:39 AM

Thaksin warned fellow leaders of six Asian nations at a summit here that they risked becoming used to life at the bottom of the world's economic pile despite representing nearly one quarter of its population.

He said they had to tap the growing economic potential of Asia after a stuttering start for the Bimstec group of nations, which has little to show since its inception seven years ago.

"We meet today because, as leaders, we can see the turning of the economic tide for the Asian century and we must benefit from it," Thaksin said in his speech.

He accepted that Bimstec -- Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Cooperation, plus new members Bhutan and Nepal -- had a lowly ranking among the world's economic zones.

"The danger is that after so long, we run the risk of getting used to life at the bottom," he said. If they turned adversity to prosperity, he said "in the eyes of the rest of the world Bimstec shall become... more than a small blip on their radar screen."

The seven leaders were due to go into closed door meetings later yesterday after doubt was cast over the long-term economic prospects for a group that represents 1.3 billion people.

The talks were designed to provide a much-needed drive towards the goal of free trade by 2017 and to promote business between the nations of South and Southeast Asia.

Trade within the group represents only 7.3 billion dollars, or four percent of their total trade.

The seven, whose combined economic size amounts to some 750 billion dollars, were to use the summit to draw up a "roadmap" to navigate the course towards the opening of markets.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his first overseas speech since taking office in May, said the group was a key part of its "Look East" trading policy.

But he said the group had to tackle other key issues such as terrorism, religious extremism, gun running and drug smuggling.

"The scourge of terrorism is unfortunately one with which we all must grapple as a global phenomenon and as an everyday reality. The areas of conflict are coming closer to us," he said.

In a rare public speech, Myanmar Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt also called for closer economic cooperation between the seven nations but failed to mention the political crisis in his country.

Myanmar, run by a military junta since 1962, is being squeezed by international sanctions imposed because of its slow pace of democratic reform and the continued detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Bimstec was founded in 1997, the year the Asian economic crisis hit, to promote trade focusing on six key sectors from tourism to technology. The three most advanced members, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, are committed to trade liberalisation by 2012, with the others following within five years.

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