"The deepening economic integration in the region will serve as a buffer in helping Asean progress and prosper," the ministers said in a joint statement issued at the end of the retreat.
The ministers said they expected Asean's economic performance to improve to 5.1 per cent this year, which was above the 3.5 per cent global growth projection.
"We based this on the stronger demand in advanced economies, energised by the robust United States' recovery and several policy stimulus measures in the Eurozone and Japan.
“Also, the region’s domestic demand could get a further boost from falling oil prices with higher purchasing power for consumers, lower input costs for producers and greater fiscal space,” the Ministers said.
The Ministers also welcomed the steady progress made in implementing the AEC Blueprint, in particular the key measures prioritised by Member States.
“The formal establishment of the AEC by end-2015 marks a major milestone in Asean’s effort to fulfil the goal of an integrated region, encapsulated under the rubric of One Vision, One Identity, One Community. The implementation of the AEC measures does not mean that Asean will become a single economic entity by 1 January 2016, rather it sends a strong signal that positive measures have been put in place towards a more liberalised and integrated economic region,” the Ministers added.
Focus for this year would be on further simplification of Customs procedures, harmonisation of standards, further liberalisation of services, enhanced trade facilitation, and conclusion of the services and investments portion of the Asean-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
The Ministers also discussed the progress in developing a comprehensive vision for AEC beyond 2015. They noted that the AEC will require further enhancements to meet the demands and challenges over the next ten years.
The Ministers welcomed the strong contribution of the private sector and other stakeholders to the work of the AEC. They reaffirmed the value of regular stakeholder consultations and directed officials to review the recommendations of the Asean Business Advisory Council and other private sector organisations, with a view to further fostering and facilitating trade and investment opportunities in the region and beyond.