The European Union says ASEAN can do more to make trade between members easier and cheaper. EU Ambassador to ASEAN Igor Driesmans said Europe had a vested interest in smoother trade because the EU is ASEAN’s third largest trading partner and ASEAN is the fifth largest economy in the world with a nominal gross domestic product estimated at more than $3 trillion.
“The number of non-tariff measure has increased for over 1,000 measures in the year 2000 to almost 6,000 in 2019. Some of them are put in place for justified public policy objectives, such as food or consumer safety or environmental protection. Others are more protectionist in nature,” Drisesmans said.
The EU is trying to help ASEAN cut non-tariff barriers by offering two free online services, the ASEAN Trade Repository (ATR) and the ASEAN Solutions for Investments, Services and Trade (ASSIST).
At a webinar run by the ASEAN Regional Integration Support from the European Union (ARISE) project, ARISE Plus Trade and Industry expert Paolo Vergano said that transparency and the ability to know the region’s trading requirements are fundamental to ensuring smooth business dealings across the region.
The ATR is a collection of information from ASEAN member’s national trade repositories. It contains almost 4,500 measure in simple, standardised English.
“The ATR is a one-stop shop that increasingly brings together a lot of the information traders need to facilitate their trade,” said Vergano. “Not just the ATR itself but also the list of harmonised standards in the ASEAN region, all the tariffs through the tariff pathfinder and links to other key instruments. It is becoming a point of reference within the region for business purposes,” he said.
ASSIST provides an anonymous online portal for ASEAN businesses to lodge complaints about trade practices with member governments. Companies, trade associations, chambers of commerce and corporate lawyers can file an anonymous complaint, receive a tracking code and get a result in two to three months.
“Once they have acquired transparency, they need to operate across borders maybe [to] resolve specific disputes, practices of governments that impair their ability to access markets, discrimination or the unequal application of the law,” Vergano said. “When these hurdles come up and the business sector needs trade facilitation, expedited processes, the ability to engage with authorities, often without knowing who those authorities are and ultimately their attempt to avoid costly and time-consuming disputes ASSIST comes to the rescue,” he said.
ASSIST has only handled 25 cases since 2016 but Vergano says it is becoming increasingly popular with 13 of those cases in the last three months.
Cambodia takes over the ASEAN chair at the start of next year and hosts the ASEAN Europe Meeting (ASEM) at the end of next month.
The EU was the second biggest trading partner with the Kingdom in 2019 with bilateral trade worth $6.7 billion. Trade with Europe plunged last year because of the Coronavirus pandemic and the EU’s decision to partially withdraw preferential tariffs under the Everything But Arms deal over alleged human rights infringements. Bilateral trade in 2020 was worth $3.9 billion.
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