Surin -- "If Asean doesn't open up its market, others will."
BANGKOK: Asean cannot continue protecting its services sector as the region is opening up its market and moving towards the Asean Economic Community (AEC) by 2015.
Asean Secretary-General Dr Surin Pitsuwan said today between 70 per cent and 75 per cent of foreign direct investments into the region went to the sector at the moment.
The region could not close down its services sector forever because investment in the sector brought along efficiency, technology and benefits, he told the Asean Business Forum here.
He said as Asean was opening up its market and removing almost all tariffs as it moved toward the establishment of AEC, it needed to remove the barrier walls for the sector.
"If Asean did not open up or open half way only its services sector market, the World Trade Organisation will open up the market, globalisation will open up the market and they can penetrate every wall," he said.
"The Asean business community must address their sense of security and ownership that the sector needs to be protected and did not want it to be a single market although other sectors are becoming common market," Surin said.
He said except for one or two economies, the services sector in the region was not opening up wide enough and there was still control on investment in schools, hospitals and telecommunications.
"They must tell their respective governments that they cannot be under cover forever and must feel secure enough to compete and open up," he said.
The Asean chief said they must be willing to face competition even among themselves but competition within a set of transparent rules and regulations.
Touching on the same subject, CIMB Group Chief Executive Officer Datuk Seri Nazir Razak said Asean member countries must put realistic implementation plans for the AEC.
He said accurate information provided by Asean member countries for the business community was important for them to take into account in their business planning.
"We don't want to plan for a free flow of services but in reality it is only a freer flow of services," he said.
He said Asean also needed to plan on cushioning the impact when opening up the market especially for those who might lose in the process.