Indonesian businesspeople warmly welcomed the signing of two sub-regional agreements by four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations during the ASEAN Summit here Friday.
The first sub-regional pact creates an East ASEAN Growth Area covering Brunei, Indonesia's Kalimantan and North Sulawesi, East Malaysia and parts of the southern Philippines.
The second agreement is called the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand growth triangle (IMT-GT) and includes Indonesia's northern Sumatra and Riau, Malaysia's Johor and Penang states and southern Thailand.
"The two signings will clearly boost business activities within the region as the agreement will require the four countries to remove barriers to doing business in the area," the chairman of the Riau Chamber of Commerce, Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, told The Jakarta Post.
The Indonesia-Malaysia and Thailand triangle, which has a total population of 100 million people, is already heavily integrated, as shown by the intensive agricultural trade between Aceh and southern Thailand and the heavy flow of people and goods between Sumatra and Malaka, Johor and Pinang in Malaysia, he added.
A special regulation also promotes integration by allowing residents in all 10 provinces of Sumatra to go to the eight states in Malaysia and eight provinces in Thailand without paying exit taxes.
"Malaysia even considers Sumatra as its supplier of vegetables and fruits. We hope small- and middle-scale enterprises get the most benefits from this development. The triangle can be a training ground for embracing the bigger ASEAN free trade area that is soon to come,' Rachman said.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he was glad to find out that governors and private sectors within the Growth Triangle had held a dialog in Selangor, Malaysia, last September.
"The mutual understanding as a result of such close contact will lead to concrete action that will promote the sub-region's economic dynamism," he said.
"And I look forward to the IMT-GT making full use of its natural strength. It has abundant natural resources, capacities and potentials that are yet to be tapped for the welfare of our peoples. The IMT-GT should be able to help accelerate the development of its member countries and help ensure equitable distribution of the benefits of national economic growth."
In a joint statement, Yudhoyono, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont acknowledged the importance of the IMT-GT as a sub-regional growth area and agreed to adopt the accompanying draft road map.
"The road map will guide the stakeholders in the implementation of doable, practical and sustainable strategies, programs and projects that will benefit the communities of the member countries," said the joint statement.
Bernardino M. Vega, chairman of the North Sulawesi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, believes the efforts of the four ASEAN governments to boost cooperation in the east ASEAN growth area will have positive impacts on development there.
"The expansion of air links will boost interaction and business among people in the sub-region. For instance, it will cost people much less to travel from one point in the area to another in a different country. If I want to go to Davao city from Manado then I don't have to go to Jakarta. It cuts distances a lot,' he told The Jakarta Post.
Cities like Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei, Balikpapan and Pontianak in Indonesia, Kota Kinibalu and Kuching in Malaysia, and Davao city and Zamboanga city in the Philippines will eventually be linked by more frequent flights as airlines will face lower operational costs, Bernardino said.