The plan to achieve the objective calls for the AEC to be based on four pillars, and compliance with the deadline depends on the progress made by each of them. Each pillar represents a number of challenging challenges before the AEC can be fully implemented. The inclusion of the AEC agreements will not be easy if they require changes in national laws and even the national constitution. The flexibility that characterizes ASEAN`s cooperation, the so-called `ASEAN way`, could give Member States a convenient pretext for not complying. How agreements can be implemented remains a problem. If the AEC is to be more than a sign of political solidarity, ASEAN must find a way to give more teeth to commitments. The real test for the Community will therefore be in the years to come. Investors can ensure that the region continues to review the free trade agreements and global economic partnerships (CEPs) to which it belongs, with the aim of enabling ASEAN companies to penetrate and integrate into the global economy. The first pillar of the AEC consists of five essential elements, namely the free movement of goods; The free movement of services; free flow in the event of an investment; freer capital flows and the free movement of skilled labour.
ASEAN has made considerable progress in each of these pillars, opening up new opportunities for both investors and ASEAN nationals. The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) considers ASEAN to be a competitive economic region. Investors can ensure that, while partnering with this vision, companies can expect reforms and initiatives to establish: with the success of these initiatives, investors can expect a strong participation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the establishment of a regional production network that will provide them with broader choices for suppliers and support industry partners. Investors can also benefit from the IAI, as beneficiaries ASEAN governments will be able to develop and implement an economic policy that would further enhance the positive effects of the ASEAN Economic Community. The AEC has four pillars: 1) the internal market and the production base; 2) Competitive Economic Region; 3) Fair economic development; and 4) ASEAN`s integration into the global economy. The main objective of the AEC is to “implement initiatives aimed at achieving an internal market and a production base for the free movement of goods, services, investment and skilled workers as well as the free movement of capital throughout the region” (ADB). Simply put, it aims to make ASEAN a single market. The AEC is based on four interconnected and mutually reinforcing pillars: (a) an internal market and a production base, b) a highly competitive economic region, c) a region with equitable economic development and (d) a region fully integrated into the global economy. As broad and varied as they are, the objectives of the AEC have already been achieved on many fronts.
According to the AEC Scorecard (2015), ASEAN countries are transforming ASEAN into a true economic community by the end of 2015. Originally, as a political alliance to limit the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, ASEAN gradually became a diplomatic organization to settle regional affairs and expand trade with the integration of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and its openness to the market economy. After the ASEAN countries found themselves on a minimalist “lower common denominator,” emphasizing harmonious relations and respect for national sovereignty, trade nevertheless largely depreciated through fairly ambitious economic agreements and free trade agreements for Southeast Asia. ASEAN leaders have now taken the Southeast Asian Association in the next stage of economic development which will ultimately also bring the peoples of Southeast Asia closer together.