SINGAPORE (Sept 17): Naw Moo Kho Paw, a compliance manager at a Myanmar-based oil and gas services provider, is chirpy as she chats about civil society-led business-related activities in Southeast Asia. But she pauses when asked about how the Asean Economic Community (AEC) has made a difference for businesses in Myanmar. Finally, she says: “There has not been enough done for the country.”

The AEC was established almost three years ago in 2015 to create a single market across member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It was envisioned as a channel for the free movement of goods, services and investments, as well as freer flow of capital and skills within the region. But on the ground, critics note, its effects have hardly been felt. Now, another Asean-led initiative — the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — is offering a ray of hope for businesses and economies around the region. How effective will this trade agreement be in lifting the region’s 650 million population?

The RCEP, seen as an alternative to the scuppered Trans-Pacific Partnership, comprises the 10-member Asean, together with Asia-Pacific powerhouses China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. When concluded, it will be the world’s largest trading bloc, encompassing a third of global GDP.

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