The first of two ASEAN Summits to be held in Cambodia this year concluded today. As expected, the major headline was the ASEAN leaders’ call for an immediate end to Burma sanctions imposed by the West against Myanmar. Given the size of the victory in the April 1 elections by Aung San Suu Chi’s party, there will be intense pressure on the EU to relax sanctions in its annual review due later this month. However, the somewhat more skeptical US will likely take at least a year to relax sanctions, due to the need to have the US Congress approve such actions. In any event, it may be advisable to move carefully in case hardliners in the Myanmar regime decide to roll back on reform. Nevertheless, it appears that Myanmar has taken another step forward.
The other major headline was the naming of Le Luong Minh as ASEAN Secretary General-designate, which we reported on yesterday.
There were other AEC-related developments coming out of Phnom Penh:
- ASEAN leaders promised to “double” support for realization of the AEC by 2015. They noted that AEC Scorecard has a cumulative score of 67.9% for 2008-2011, although as usual, they did not disclose how the score was prepared. They also agreed to study a visa-exemption regime for intra-ASEAN travel for ASEAN nationals and a single visa for non-ASEAN nationals.
- ASEAN leaders also said that they would aim to start negotiations with ASEAN trading partners under the ASEAN Framework on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership by the November 2012 ASEAN summit in Cambodia.
- ASEAN foreign ministers signed the Instrument of Incorporation of the Rules for Reference of Non-Compliance to the ASEAN Summit to the Protocol to the ASEAN Charter on Dispute Settlement Mechanisms. This document allows the Protocol to become legally operational, after it is ratified, and provides for dispute resolution on non-economic matters.
- ASEAN transport ministers signed the Protocol to Implement the 7th Package of Commitments on Air Transport Services under the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS).
- ASEAN finance ministers signed a new ASEAN Agreement on Customs that will further encourage cooperation among customs officials in the region (we’ll have more on this after we get a full text).
- ASEAN published the full lists of member country reservations to the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA). The lists are available here.
- ASEAN and Indonesia signed a host country agreement regarding the privileges and immunities of ASEAN as an international legal person operating in Indonesia. The agreement replaces one signed in 1979.
- EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who attended an EU-ASEAN meeting in Phnom Penh, announced that the EU and Vietnam had signed a “scoping paper” on FTA talks. This represents another step in preliminary talks to begin FTA talks, which had been initiated in 2010. Myanmar, for its part, said that with its reform process in place, the EU should resume EU-ASEAN FTA talks. Separately, De Gucht threatened WTO action against differential import tariffs imposed by Thailand on liquor.
- Finally, the ASEAN Committee on Consumer Protection issued the ASEAN Consumer Complaints leaflet, which is reproduced below. Although the immediate effect is not great, putting priority on consumer issues is a way to make the AEC more relevant to the average ASEAN citizen. The next step is to put some actual regulatory teeth behind such efforts, which will take a long time reach international standards.