The Informal ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) Meeting was held on 19-20 January 2004 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia to further discuss the measures for the integration of the eleven (11) priority sectors and to follow-up the decisions of the 9th ASEAN Summit in Bali, in particular those relating to the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit in Tokyo. The Meeting was attended by all ASEAN Economic Ministers.

Eleven Priority Integration Sectors

The Ministers discussed the reports of the various Country Coordinators on the progress made in the discussions among public and private sector representatives on the 11 sectors identified for priority integration.  The Ministers agreed that the successful integration of these priority sectors is an important step towards the realization of the ASEAN Economic Community.

To demonstrate their strong resolve in creating a single market, using as springboard the 11 priority integration sectors, the Ministers took the following course of action:

(i) They agreed that the Senior Economic Officials (SEOM) shall oversee the integration of the 11 priority sectors.

(ii) To support SEOM and assist the Country Coordinators, it was agreed that more dedicated staff be assigned to coordinate work on the integration of the priority sectors. For this purpose, the Ministers requested the ASEAN Secretariat to recruit additional staff as soon as possible.  Each Country Coordinator will also establish its own project team.

(iii) All roadmaps on the integration of these sectors shall eventually be transcribed into legally binding commitments in the form of appropriate agreements. The Ministers agreed that there are horizontal issues cutting across all sectors and a roadmap to clear all these issues should be settled by the AEM Retreat.  For sector-specific roadmaps, these would also be submitted to the AEM Retreat for consideration. All the finalized roadmaps for the integration of the 11 priority sectors shall be submitted to the Leaders at the 10th ASEAN Summit in Vientiane for endorsement. The signing of the appropriate agreements shall be done in 2005.

(iv) To facilitate the establishment of the ASEAN Single Window, the Ministers agreed to set up an ASEAN inter-agency Task Force comprising representatives from relevant government agencies, such as, trade, health, agriculture, customs and those responsible for standards and conformance, to design the ASEAN Single Window. This ASEAN Single Window aims to ensure the expeditious clearance of imports through single submission of data, single data processing, and single decision-making for the release of goods.

ASEAN Dispute Settlement Mechanism (DSM)

One of the important decisions taken by the ASEAN Leaders at the Bali Summit was to establish an effective dispute settlement mechanism in the region by the end of 2004 to ensure proper implementation of all ASEAN agreements and the expeditious resolution of any dispute that may arise. As ASEAN Member Countries deepen regional economic integration efforts, the more it has become important to put in place a dispute settlement procedure that would provide options to Member Countries, i.e. advisory, consultative and adjudicatory mechanisms, in resolving implementation problems and disputes.

Towards this end, the Ministers:

(i) Endorsed the Term of Reference (TOR) for the ASEAN Consultations to Solve Trade and Investment Issues (ACT) for immediate implementation.

 The ACT, patterned after the EU SOLVIT, would be a non-legal and non-binding internet-based problem solving network, which private individuals and businesses can resort to when faced with operational problems related to an ASEAN member’s implementation of any ASEAN commitment.  Each Member Country shall designate a focal point to which complaints can be filed. All complaints lodged before the ACT must be resolved in 30 days.

(ii) Tasked SEOM to finalize the Terms of Reference for the ASEAN Compliance Body (ACB) for endorsement by the AEM Retreat in April 2004.

The ACB, modelled after the WTO Textile Monitoring Board, shall provide for the adjudication mechanism wherein ASEAN members can make use of the less legalistic peer pressure in dispute resolution.

(i) Tasked SEOM to amend the Protocol on ASEAN Dispute Settlement Mechanism for signing by the 36th AEM Meeting August 2004.

WTO Issues

The Ministers also exchanged views on the developments related to the Doha Development Agenda of the WTO. Being highly dependent on the global market for trade in goods and investment, they underscored the importance of multilateralism as espoused by the WTO and agreed to exert efforts to keep the Doha Round on track.  They also reiterated their full support for the early accession of Viet Nam and Lao PDR into the WTO.