MANILA -- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) needs to further push intra-regional trade and investment to fully benefit its citizens from economic integration, said the country’s top diplomat.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the benefits of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) must be felt by its citizens, as the region is now the fifth strongest economic power in the world next to the European Union, United States, China and Japan.

“The ASEAN economy is thus an important part of the global economy. And through the ASEAN Economic Community, ASEAN is able to face a global economy that is more competitive in the future,” Cayetano said in his speech read by DFA Asst. Secretary Frank Cimafranca during the European Union (EU)-Philippines Business Summit Tuesday.

ASEAN’s combined gross domestic product (GDP) stood at USD2.55 trillion in 2016 with a robust year-on-year real GDP growth rate of 4.7 percent despite the challenging global environment.

This growth in the region’s economy is expected to accelerate to 4.8 percent in 2017, supported by solid growth of private consumption and investment as well as expansionary fiscal policy.

ASEAN’s merchandise trade remains resilient at USD1.06 trillion in the first half of 2016, of which 24.02 percent was intra-ASEAN.

“To date, we have made progress in the implementation of trade facilitation measures and initiatives in ASEAN with a view to reduce cost and time of doing business in the region,” Cayetano said.

He also noted that ASEAN attracted a total of USD52.94 billion foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows, in the first half of 2016, of which 23.36 percent was intra-ASEAN.

Cayetano said full ASEAN integration is a work in progress to facilitate a rules-based, people-centered and people-oriented ASEAN Community.

The DFA chief stressed that regional connectivity plays an important role in realizing the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 to transform the region through the AEC into “one of opportunities for our peoples, our business communities and our external partners.”

“We expect greater and more efficient inter-regional trade, which is a vital component towards realizing the goal of a single market and production base for the benefit of the entire region. (PNA)