Leaders of Southeast Asian nations have agreed to ease monetary policy and resist protectionism as they fight the financial crisis that is hurting their export-dependent economies, a draft statement showed.
The 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations also vowed to work with the Group of 20 on reforming international financial institutions.
We agreed that counter-cyclical and more coordinated macroeconomic policies are the best response to this global financial crisis, said the draft chairman's statement to be issued after the summit ends on Sunday.
Some governments have already implemented fiscal stimulus packages to boost domestic demand and accommodative monetary policy that enable the banking sector to continue their function.
The statement said the leaders were committed to resist any protectionist measures which would further dampen global trade and slow down the economic recovery and urged major players in the World Trade Organization to bring about an early conclusion of the Doha round.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said at the start of the summit on Saturday in Thailand's royal seaside resort of Hua Hin: We will be severely tested from now on, both as a group and as a part of the broader Asia region. As the financial crisis deepens, the world will look toward our region for action and for confidence.
ASEAN has moved toward becoming a single community of 570 million people with a combined GDP of $2 trillion in six years, he said. But leaders are worried about rising unemployment.
Some countries are preparing for elections this year or next. Thailand, which has had four prime ministers in the past year, offers lessons to its neighbors about the dangers of festering political rifts in deteriorating economic conditions.
The summit, scheduled for December in Bangkok, was postponed and moved to Hua Hin due to street protests that included the seizure of Bangkok's main airports.
Singapore's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, said the world could be in for several more years of slow growth unless the banking system at the core of the crisis was fixed.
I think the U.S. recession will last this year, maybe a bit longer, he told the Bangkok Post in an interview published on Saturday. But the concern is what happens after the U.S. recession: whether there is a strong recovery or whether in fact the difficulties will take several more years to work out.
ASEAN officials have argued against protectionism in world trade but have defended their own buy-local campaigns by saying they are consistent with trade rules.
ASEAN signed a Free Trade Agreement with New Zealand and Australia on Friday that Australia says will add $48 billion eventually to economies in the region.
This year's summit theme of ASEAN Charter for ASEAN Peoples was meant to introduce a dialogue between the leaders and civil society groups. But it got off to a wobbly start when Cambodia and Myanmar refused to recognize the groups representing their countries.
Exiled Myanmar politician Soe Aung said ASEAN must abandon its tradition of non-interference if such dialogue was to work.
Until and unless then, this ASEAN human rights body and ASEAN charter will not be effective at all, Soe told reporters.
Abhisit said: We must take gradual steps and encourage wider participation. This is something new. This is the first time and we will continue to make more progress.
The draft declaration vowed to make a Human Rights Body operational by the end of the year.
A loose informal grouping formed in 1967 under an anti-communist banner at the height of the Vietnam war has now become a legal entity under its landmark charter. But abandoning consensus to become a rules-based group is sorely testing ASEAN's tradition of non-interference.
ASEAN comprises Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei and the Philippines.
(Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Janet Lawrence)