ASEAN's new Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitsuvan, says reducing the discrepancy in development levels between members is a priority if the Southeast Asian grouping is to become a fully integrated regional community.
Dr. Surin, who is Thailand's former foreign minister, says the gap in development levels imposes many restrictions on the newer members, impeding their efforts to join ASEAN's Free Trade Zone by 2015.
He says there must be greater cooperation with and increased assistance to the newer members, namely Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, to help them bridge the gap so that they will be able to better implement the ASEAN free trade agreements.
Laos is to begin this month reducing tariffs on 90% of more than 16,000 categories of imports to 5% by 2015, creating concerns about impact on its budget and its national development efforts, because as of last year Laos was able to raise more than 1.5 billion kips in tariff earnings, which amounted to 25% ot its total revenues.
Listen to our Laos Today report for more details in Lao.