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ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, an organization that was founded on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand. Its original charter counted five member-countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Since then, five other nations have joined: Brunei in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999.
The member-countries are sprawled over an area of 1.74 million square miles (4.5 million square kilometers) with a combined population of 500 million people. Their annual gross domestic product is almost $700 billion US Dollars (USD), with a total trade of around $850 billion USD.
The ASEAN was set up to advance mutual interests in the region, including the acceleration of economic growth, social and cultural progress, and regional peace and stability. In line with those goals, the organization's leaders set up three "pillars" of governance in 2003: ASEAN Security, ASEAN Economic Community, and ASEAN Socio-cultural Community.
At present, the group's foremost economic concern is to make the region a competitive force on the global stage. It proposes to do this by launching the region as a single market production base, resulting in the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA). The AFTA ensures that tariff and non-tariff barriers among member countries are eliminated, hopefully resulting in greater economic productivity.
The ASEAN also aims to unite the region and promote greater cross-cultural understanding through various educational and social programs. Examples of this include the ASEAN Work Programme for HIV and AIDS; ASEAN Occupational Safety and Health Network; ASEAN University Network (AUN) ASEAN Students Exchange Programme, Youth Cultural Forum, and the ASEAN Young Speakers Forum; among others.
As for regional peace and stability, it it interesting to note that since its inception, there have not been any armed confrontations between member countries, which is note-worthy considering there have been many long-standing arguments regarding land and marine borders in the region.
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