East Timor aims to join ASEAN

Market in East Timor. The country is in need to develop human resources and core sectors of its economy.

The tiny nation of East Timor has reaffirmed that it is keen to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to accelerate its economic development and get more political influence in the region.

East Timor first sought membership in ASEAN in 2007, but the formal application was only submitted to the regional grouping in March 2011. Since then, the ten existing ASEAN members have been discussing about the application. While Indonesia is supporting East Timor’s bid, other nations, namely Singapore, do not want East Timor in the regional bloc because the country’s internal conflicts “might cause problems.”

Others say if East Timor joins the bloc, it has to assure that its membership will not disturb the group’s plan for an ASEAN Economic Community beginning in 2016.

Indonesia occupied East Timor for a quarter-century until 1999, with troops committing acts of violence just prior to their departure. But Indonesia has subsequently been a prominent supporter of the fledgling nation in international forums.

In any case, East Timor needs support to bring its economy onto its feet despite rising income from oil operations together with Australian firms. The economy of East Timor is ranked as a lower-middle income economy by the World Bank, placed 158th on the Human Development Index. 20 per cent of the population is currently unemployed, and 52.9 per cent live on less than $1.25 a day. About half of the population is illiterate, according to UN development statistics.

Exports from East Timor were just $18 million in 2011, mainly oil, coffee, sandalwood, marble and vanilla, while the export value stood at $689 million, mainly for gasoline, machinery and food.