Thursday, January 8, 2015

Giving Full Effect to ASEAN Measures, Including Drivers' Licenses

Today the news feed brought in another example of how many of the ASEAN Economic Community’s major problems are in the compliance and enforcement of existing ASEAN agreements, rather than the creation of new agreements. 

In the January 6, 2015, Bangkok Post, the Thai Association of Domestic Travel urged the Thai government to push for an ASEAN driver’s license to facilitate travel by tourists:

Yutthachai Sunthornrattanavej, chairman of the ADT, said on Tuesday that his association planned to submit a letter to Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul asking for guidelines to boost tourism in border areas before the launch of the Asean Economic Community later this year with an eye toward making Thailand Asean's tourism hub. He urged the ministry to hold meetings with provincial chambers of commerce, immigration offices in border provinces, and officials from neighbouring countries to jointly lay guidelines for personal travel, particularly the issuance of Asean driving licenses.

It would seem reasonable to create an ASEAN driver’s license, which would allow for cross-border access by ASEAN drivers in other ASEAN member states.  However, this raises the question of which authority would issue an ASEAN driver’s license, since there is no ASEAN institution that would have sufficient supranational authority to do so. 

Better then, to have mutual recognition within ASEAN of drivers’ licenses issued by other national authorities in ASEAN member states.  After all, that is what happens in the EU, where drivers’ licenses of the various EU member states are recognized by other EU member states.

Indeed, this is such a good idea that it was actually agreed upon thirty years ago by the ASEAN member states in the Agreement on the Recognition of Domestic Driving Licences Issued by ASEAN Countries:

The Contracting Parties agree to recognize all domestic driving licences except for temporary/ provisional/learner's driving licences (hereinafter referred to as "the licences") issued by the designated authorities or national automobile associations of the ASEAN countries.

By virtue of the recognition hereby of the licences, holders of the licences issued in any one of the ASEAN countries and intending to take only a temporary stay in the territory of any of the other ASEAN countries may drive therein the classes or types of vehicles the licences permit them to drive.

Hence there already exists an “ASEAN driving licence” scheme that would allow for ASEAN nationals to drive in Thailand.

So what is the Thai association complaining about?  The Bangkok Post article goes on to state that:

The existing regulations limit the travel of not more than 200km from checkpoints bordering Malaysia, said Mr Yutthachai. He believed the regulations, if adjusted, would boost the number of tourists in the country. Tourists from other border areas could travel to Bangkok and other tourism towns like Pattaya, thus generating more revenue.

Thus, the problem identified by the Thai association is with Thai domestic implementation of the existing 1985 ASEAN agreement.  The Thai government is not giving full effect to the agreement because ASEAN drivers are limited to the border regions and not throughout Thailand, as specified in the agreement. 

This rather prosaic example illustrates the importance of monitoring compliance with ASEAN measures beyond the border, as well as the need to publicize existing ASEAN commitments.  In addition, it underlies the need to strengthen ASEAN institutions to perform these functions:  clearly the Thai tourism association’s problem is with its own government, but if its own government refuses to implement the 1985 ASEAN agreement fully, the association has no other recourse, as the ASEAN institutions as currently situated do not have authority to do more than publicize the non-compliance. 

In other words, the ASEAN agreements must be given full effect for the ASEAN Economic Community to function properly, even with regard to the “small” aspects of ASEAN.