The ASEAN trade community encompasses a group of dynamic economies that seem poised to experience rapid growth and gains in wealth. As with any entity that exudes potential, however, the ASEAN trade bloc faces significant challenges as a trade bloc and as independent nations. The beginning of the AEC (ASEAN Economic Community) will present a whole list of new issues along with its great promise.
Inequality in the ASEAN trade bloc is an issue that presents many problems, but perhaps the most concerning is the flow of unskilled laborers from the poor countries of the region to the rich countries. The so called CMLV group (Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam) became a part of the ASEAN community almost 30 years after its inception and also share one other major characteristic. They are all poor compared to the founding nations of Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, and Brunei. Thus far mass immigration has not become a problem, but with the AEC, a model similar to the European Union, coming into place the free flow of goods and labor will become easier and much more likely. One key concern of this is to prevent this free flow to result in mass exodus from the CMLV group which will negatively affect the entire region.
Another major issue that deals with inequality, perceived or otherwise, is the socioeconomic class that is driving forward change in the region. With large scale integration and economic progress, the poor and lower tiers of society are likely to be further marginalized as this process continues. That is unless social programs are put in place in order to alleviate some of the issues, and to allow the lower tiers of society some potential for participation in the growth and an opportunity to advance to a new socioeconomic state.
While inequality issues will no doubt weigh large in the ASEAN countries, the real issues going forward deal with successful implementation and operation of the AEC. No real progress is to be made if they cannot effectively manage this new organization. Although not as integrated as the Eurozone, due to not using one community currency, the AEC must learn from some of the mistakes and issues that have plagued the Eurozone, while simultaneously trying to emulate the parts it got right. Only time will tell if the ASEAN countries have what it takes to overcome these significant issues and reach their intrinsic potential.