Naypyitaw, 27 February 2012

ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) yesterday concluded their 18th AEM Retreat in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Steered by H. E. Dr. Cham Prasidh, Senior Minister and Minister of Commerce of Cambodia, Ministers exchanged views and deliberated on a wide range of issues guided by the six areas that have been identified by Cambodia as the priorities under its Chairmanship in 2012. The Ministers resolved to further intensify efforts in facilitating trade, services, and investment within ASEAN, and to seriously address the impediments to market access of goods and services to ensure that ASEAN moves toward one integrated market. The Ministers noted the developments in the implementation of various initiatives aimed at establishing the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 and particularly looked forward to the entry into force of the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA) in the days to come.

The growing role of the business sector in ASEAN’s Community-building efforts and the importance of efficient private sector dialogues that yield meaningful outcomes for both the public and the private sectors were also discussed.

Now that tariffs within ASEAN have reduced to zero on 99.65% of the traded tariff lines for the ASEAN-6 and 98.86% for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Viet Nam; the Ministers—based on feedback from the business sector—unanimously agreed it is time we looked into impediments at and behind the border. “The only way to tackle these issues is through better engagement with the business sector, not only at the Ministerial level but also at the sectoral levels.” Minister Cham Prasidh further emphasised that “we should not only listen to the issues they have raised with us, we should also provide them with responses to the issues that they have risen. Otherwise, the private sector will not take us seriously.” The ministers also noted that the foreign-based multinational corporations (MNCs) and associations were more forthcoming and focused with solid issues of interest to their business community. The Ministers would therefore call on ASEAN-based organisations also to be proactive and voluble in raising concerns.

“We also need to find a way on how to create the space for the young, active, and enthusiastic business persons in ASEAN—who will probably be more upfront in raising issues as the younger generation can better relate to ASEAN,” stated Dr Surin Pitsuwan, The Secretary-General of ASEAN.

In addition, the Ministers provided strategic guidance in the development of the ASEAN Framework on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership—taking into account the rapid developments taking place in the region—to take ASEAN to the next level of engagement with Free Trade Area (FTA) Partners. Conscious of the need to act fast to keep pace with regional developments, the Ministers agreed to establish Working Groups on Trade in Goods, Services, and Investment as soon as possible. The Working Groups will look into various aspects of the regional comprehensive economic partnership. At this Retreat, the Ministers further endorsed key deliverables for 2012.