President of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Haruhiko Kuroda Thursday called for a pragmatic step-by- step approach in building Asian economic cooperation and integration, rather than building it upon a "vision" as was the case of European Union.
Addressing a business meeting organized by the Manila-based Asian Institute of Management, Kuroda said it must be noted that subregions within Asia are at different stages of regional integration, so a multi-track, multi-speed, and market-friendly plan accompanied with pragmatism is the best approach to push forward Asian economic cooperation and integration.
He said in the next 10 to 15 years, working on a broad political and social consensus to develop a "grand plan of regional integration does not appear feasible at this stage."
"Asia and the Pacific should adopt a multi-speed approach to cooperation, whereby a few countries can start working together on selected common issues, leaving the option for other countries to join later, or new integration issues to be added," said the ADB president.
He praised ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) for playing an exemplary role in building regional economic integration by playing host to ASEAN+3 summit meetings and East Asian summit meetings.
"ASEAN, of course, acts as a de facto 'regional hub' of East Asia and of Asia more generally. ASEAN is thus well-placed to pull together the fragmented national markets into an East Asia-wide Free Trade Agreement, which could eventually encompass ASEAN+3 countries, India, Australia, and New Zealand. That would be a logical extension," he said.
He said Asian countries should now intensify work in the area of regional public goods. The region's response to SARS epidemic in 2003, the common approach to the December 2004 tsunami relief, the work currently being done to control avian influenza, efforts at disaster preparedness, and the longer-term response to rapid environmental degradation are examples of what Asian countries can do together.