Last week the ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) met in Siem Reap. In this post, I summarize some of the major outcomes from the meeting:
- Despite numerous headlines to the contrary, the successful conclusion of the AEM does not mean that the impasse from the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting has been resolved. ASEAN leaders are still working on patching things up by the ASEAN summit in November, including a joint statement that would replace the inchoate joint communiqué.
- The AEM agreed to start Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks with ASEAN’s trading partners, China, Korea, Japan, India and Australia-New Zealand, which would build upon the FTAs that ASEAN has with them. If taken to its logical conclusion, an Asia-wide FTA could result. The breadth and depth of the RCEP talks have not been set yet, but it is likely that they will not be as comprehensive as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks. The RCEP and the TPP are not incompatible, but if the RCEP takes off, the U.S. risks being left behind.
- The AEM expressed concern about the progress in implementing the AEC Blueprint, as measured by the AEC Scorecard. Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs) were singled out as a particular worry.
- The AEM approved the Protocol to Amend Certain ASEAN Economic Agreements Related to Trade in Goods. Through the protocol, eleven ASEAN agreements to be superseded by the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) will be administratively annexed to the ATIGA. The Protocol will be formally signed at the AEM informal retreat next year.
- The AEM confirmed that self-certification of origin for the ATIGA will be fully implemented by 2015, to operate in tandem with the current Form D paper certification process. It is anticipated that self-certification will completely replace Form D at some future date. What was not decided is whether the Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei-Thailand version of self-certification (which is open to all exporters) or the Indonesia-Philippines-Laos version (which is open only to manufacturers) will be adopted. As I have noted previously, this is a critical issue in self-certification.
- The AEM endorsed the ASEAN Agreement on Movement of Natural Person (MNP) for signing November ASEAN Summit. The MNP Agreement facilitate the movement of ASEAN people engaging in trade: in goods, trade in services and investment in the region.
- The AEM agreed to consider Hong Kong’s bid to accede to the ASEAN-China FTA, but no commitment was made with regard to timing or conditions. Indonesia publicly supported Hong Kong’s bid, with Singapore expressing skepticism.
- Finally, there was some additional news from the sidelines of the AEM:
The ASEAN trading link connecting stock exchanges in the region will start up later this month, with Malaysia and Singapore (re)establishing cross border trading.
The Asian Development Bank proposed that ASEAN set up a regional commodities bourse for rice and other critical goods.