The economic crisis that has engulfed most of Asia for over a year now has provided an opportunity to further enhance and deepen sub-regional cooperation at the ASIAN level. Economic activities at the EAST ASIAN Growth Area (BIMP- EAGA), the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Area (IMT-GT) and the Indonesia-Malaysia-Singapore-Growth Area (IMS-GT) continued to be pursued to further promote economic development of the sub-regions. The sub-regions. The sub-regions have now evolved into economic networks which generate opportunities for trade and investments.

In the IMT-GT, a total of 69 cooperative projects with a value of RM 18 billion have been initiated. About 28 of these projects are in the trade and investment sectors, 13 in infrastructure, 10 in agriculture, 6 in tourism. 5 in human resource development and 4 in the services sector. About 20% of the projects have been implemented and the rest are in various stages of implementation. The joint venture projects and areas of cooperation range from the development of the Common Border Wholesale Market at the Malaysia-Thailand Border Area; investment in oil-palm plantations in Indonesia; setting up a Muslim Livestock and Food Processing Centre in the Pattani Industrial Zone; the establishment of a Special Telecommunications Zone; the Satun-Perlis highway project; the Landbridge Project; the introduction of border passes and staff exchange programmes; efforts to harmonize professional practices and standards and the establishment of interest free banking services in the sub-region. Emphasis is also placed on nurturing the small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) to play a significant role in the economic development of the region. To support the SMEs, the Joint Business Council (JBC) has identified several measures which include encouraging the local commercial banks to open their windows to SMEs; to explore the possibility of establishing a regional merchant bank with ADB and the World Bank and implementing the private sector initiative with regard to interest free banking and over the counter market. The JBC is also planning to hold a SMEs convention in 1998 which would expose the SMEs to opportunities present in the region.

In the BIMB_EAGA there has been significant developments since its inception in 1994. Greater sea and air linkages have been established and the tourism industry in particularly viewed as a potential cuisine in the light of the economic crisis facing the region. Efforts are being taken to position the BIMP-EAGA Shipping Association is expected to be set up soon. A new airline, the Borneo Airways has taken to the skies to tap the tourism potentials of Sabah, Sarawak, Kalimantan and Boreneo. The Philippines has extended the travel-tax exemption of EAGA bound air and sea passengers embarking from the international ports in Mindanao until March 2000. Brunei Darussalam has harmonised air, land and sea entry requirements for national of Indonesia and the Philippines and introduced 72 hour transit visa for almost all travelers visiting the country. Malaysia and Brunei are also studying the possibility of having a special Smart Card for trans boundary travel between the two countries.

Construction activities in the BIMP-EAGA region have intensified and an EAGA-wide consortium has been agreed to be formed as a vehicle for EAGA cooperation at the project level. The consortium is aimed at creating synergy and competitive products and services among contractor and consultant services providers within the EAGA sub-region. The first BIMP_EAGA Construction and consultant services providers within the EAGA sub-region. The first BIMP-EAGA Construction and Construction Materials in October 1997 which has generated US$5 million in terms of actual and negotiated sales. BIMP-EAGA's potential has also drawn interest from countries like Australia (Northern Territory) and Japan as well as the Islamic Development Bank. Trade Agreements between Australia and BIMP-EAGA include road building technology transfer, halal and chilled beef shipments to Brunei and Malaysia as well as remote power generation. The Japanese have been involved in the Davao Integrated Development Program and also have conducted a feasibility study on the establishment of a seaweed processing facility in Sulu or Tawi-tawi. The IDB is said to be interested in the establishment of an Islamic bank in Minadanao, Philippines.

In the IMS-GT region, emphasis has been placed on the improvement of the accessibility of the region as well as collaboration in the tourism sector. The linkage between Singapore and Johore has been enhanced through the second link while Indonesia has proposed the development of a linkage from Dumai to Port Dicksom in Malaysia. The sea link is expected to facilitate trade, tourism, people mobility and industrial development. The generate greater awareness of the region, initiatives have been taken to develop an IMT-GT Travel Manual. There has also been a proposal to formulate a two-year tourism rolling plan which would seek to further enhance the region's collective attractiveness.

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