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Asean gets bullish on regional integration

The Asean region could be the world’s sixth-largest economy but its financial systems are far from homogenous. Free movement of goods, services, investments and labour planned for 2015 should boost unity but the lack of an integrated capital market is a big stumbling block. Chris Wright reports.

CESAR PURISIMA IS in full flow. The Philippines’ finance secretary is sitting in a cavernous Hanoi conference centre at the Asian Development Bank annual meeting and is talking up his country’s prospects in the light of a unified southeast Asia. "We are really bullish looking to the future of an integrated Asean," he says, as images of idyllic Boracay beaches and the rolling chocolate hills of Bohol drift past on a TV monitor behind him, a pitch to attract more intra-Asian tourism to the Philippines. "Asean is an economy of 600 million people, a very favourable demographic, and the Philippines is very well positioned to actively participate in that."

Purisima is doing something that more and more people in this region tend to do: to speak of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as a single economic bloc. It’s a compelling case. A combined Asean economy, UBS says, would be the sixth-largest economy in the world.

There’s just one problem with this unified vision: it hasn’t happened. It’s not even close to happening.

Asean brings together 10 nation states embracing a greater variety of wealth, society and political process than could be found almost anywhere else in the world.

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