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Pacific Rim Nations Ponder Currency Union
By Richard Giedroyc

Details are still sketchy, as they have been for years, but a Dec. 10, 2008, Wall Street Journal comment should spark the interests of coin collectors regarding the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

According to the one-liner appearing in the newspaper, "Trying to replicate the monetary union of the Eurozone, ASEAN plus three countries, China, Japan, and [South] Korea are working towards introducing a common currency for East Asia."

It's no secret ASEAN has been considering a common currency for its member nations for many years. The brief Dec. 10 newspaper comment, however, suggests more is brewing than has been released to the press. At the time this article was being written nothing further could be learned.

The ASEAN Vision 2020 project is meant to integrate the economies of the participating nations. When ASEAN was founded Aug. 8, 1967, its members were Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Since that time Brunei, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam have joined the organization.

According to the ASEAN official Web site, ASEAN Vision 2020 includes major integration-related economic activities in four areas. These four areas are capital market development, capital account liberalization, liberalization of financial services and currency cooperation. It is this "currency cooperation" that should grab the attention of coin collectors.

So far nothing has been said publicly regarding a common currency, but a lot has been said regarding why even 2020 may be an ambitious date by which to hope to succeed with the goals of ASEAN Vision 2020.

On Jan. 23 Channel NewsAsia's India correspondent Damanjeet Kohli in New Delhi reported, "Besides infrastructure, a lack of political uniformity is also another barrier to ASEAN-India integration."

Kohli added, "A military government in Myanmar and the recent political unrest in Thailand have obstructed the trade corridor. Laws on taxation and banking too differ in each country. Adopting common standards and even a common currency seems unlikely as most ASEAN countries trade with India on one hand, but are also its rivals on the other hand for the import and investment of dollars in the rest of the world."

ASEAN nations have varying levels of development, with different rules regarding exports and imports similar to the border crossing problems faced in Europe prior to the establishment of the European Union. One step in the right direction for ASEAN is the proposed rail link between Delhi in India to Hanoi in Vietnam, passing through Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

Unfortunately Myanmar and Thailand are both currently experiencing political unrest. Trying to get all of these culturally and economically different countries to agree on a common currency may be even more difficult than it was for the European Union to develop the euro.

Myanmar still maintains the strictest currency laws, using Foreign Exchange Certificates visitors are required to use if staying for more than six months, while only allowing the export of the amount of foreign currency an individual imported and can prove so through receipts.


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