The West

KPMG's global chairman says Australian companies have been slow to ready themselves to take advantage of the proposed ASEAN free trade zone.

Michael Andrew suggests the lack of urgency could mean that Australian businesses have yet to fully appreciate the major opportunities offered by the ASEAN Economic Community.

Mr Andrew, who was in Perth yesterday with KPMG national chairman Peter Nash, said the AEC was a chance for companies to pursue an ASEAN strategy and reassess structures and processes, including labour, supply chains and treasury functions.

The plan is to build an integrated regional economic community - with a single market and production base - by 2015, though there are growing doubts it can achieve that timetable.

The blueprint, agreed by regional leaders in Singapore six years ago, provides for the free or reduced movement of goods and services, investment, skilled labour and technology.

KPMG and rival professional services firms have reweighted to Asia as the continent's economic influence has grown.

Mr Andrew is not only the first Australian to chair KPMG but the first chairman of a Big Four accounting firm to be based in the Asia-Pacific, in his case, Hong Kong. It means he is often sought out to press regional issues with KPMG and business bodies.

A former managing partner of KPMG's Melbourne office and a one time member of the Business Council of Australia, he spends most of his time travelling across the firm's offices, talking with clients and staff, and engaging on industry issues. In particular, he has emerged as a stout defender of the audit profession in the face of attacks by regulators.

The Australian practices of the major accounting firms have recently been hurt by subdued economic conditions. KPMG's Australian revenue of $1.1 billion for the year to June 30 was down 0.6 per cent on 2011-12.

Mr Nash said while he welcomed the improving relationship between Canberra and business since last month's election of the coalition Government, it was too early yet to expect any marked recovery in business confidence. However, there were encouraging signs of improved consumer confidence.

The West Australian

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