The Asean Economic Ministers' Meeting in Siem Riep, Cambodia, has expressed concerns over intra-regional trade, fearing that rising non-tariff barriers (NTBs) will hamper trade liberalisation.
The ministers’ meeting has urged Asean countries to reduce obstacles to ensure the free flow of trade. In addition, they should jointly set up a single, region-wide set of standards for Asean like that applied in the European Union.
Surin Pitsuwan, Asean’s secretary-general, said member countries should focus more on increasing intra-regional trade to cushion the effects from the US financial crunch and the euro-zone crisis.
Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyaphirom said yesterday that the Afta Council had discussed obstacles to intra-regional trade such as NTBs although Asean members have already reduced tariffs to almost zero as obligated under the Asean Free Trade Agreement.
But it now has found that Asean countries have launched more non-tariff measures (NTMs). Without any limitations on such moves, Asean will not achieve its regional trade liberalisation goals.
“The Asean economic ministers agreed to find ways to prevent the rise of NTMs,” Boonsong said.
He added that the meeting also agreed to post on Asean’s website all NTMs that the private sector found to be hampering their market access, which the countries in question would need to explain case by case.
It was also found that Asean members were not yet ready to follow the trade-liberalisation framework designed to lead the region to become a single market by 2015.
Surin said only 25 per cent of Asean’s worldwide trade was within the region, or US$2.4 trillion to $2.5 trillion (Bt75 trillion to Bt78 trillion), which was quite low. Therefore, Asean countries should encourage more regional trade and investment. In particular, small and medium-sized enterprises should be the targeted group to promote expansion in the region.
“Thai SMEs are not as active as those of other Asean countries in looking for trading partners abroad or investing overseas, so they have lost business opportunities,” he said.
He also said that if the financial crises in the US and the EU created more serious effects in Asean, it could delay implementation of the AEC.
Meanwhile, the ministers’ meeting with the head of the World Intellectual Property Organisation agreed to increase cooperation in preparation of IP protection after the implementation of the AEC.