Monday, August 6, 2012

Even CLMV Countries Feel the AEC Blues

It is commonly believed that the CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) countries will benefit the most from the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), with their large labor pool and reduced operating costs.  However, even the CLMV countries can have the same anxieties as more developed ASEAN members such as Thailand. See this from Vietnam News:
Businesses in HCM City are urging government agencies to create more technical barriers to trade to protect domestically manufactured goods from foreign competition. Nguyen Quang Anh, chairman of the HCM City Plastics and Rubber Manufacturers Association, said the country's technical barriers were inadequate, leaving local industries vulnerable.
Their proposed solution is to create even more non-tariff barriers (NTBs):
Nguyen Quoc Anh of the HCM City Enterprises Association said the association would work with government agencies to promote the establishment of more technical barriers to trade. Over the last five years, Viet Nam had set up only a few technical barriers to trade, while global trade expanded greatly, according to Do Duc Chi of the city's Planning and Investment Department.
Of course, eliminating existing NTBs, let alone creating new NTBs, is a core commitment of the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA).  Thus these  Vietnamese companies are -- perhaps innocently, perhaps ingeniously -- publicly articulating that their government adopt new NTBs to protect their domestic markets.

This is nothing new, and in fact happens within ASEAN countries all the time.  Only in this case, the Vietnamese made their demands public, rather than in the hushed halls of government ministries. 

NTBs can indeed be effective protective measures.  For example, in one ASEAN-6 country, it can take many months (in some cases exceeding a year) to qualify a steel shipment for customs clearance.  In another ASEAN-6 country, imports are channeled through a limited number of ports, with sensitive items subjected to more rigorous customs checks.  In both cases, exporters are discouraged from shipping goods to those countries.

As I wrote in the earlier blog post, eliminating NTBs is both a critical and continuing task for the ASEAN Secretariat to establish a single production base and single market.  Finding NTBs is difficult enough without ASEAN member states conjuring up even more NTBs, and not all of them will do us the favor of publicly advocating for them.  This task alone will require additional resources and powers for the ASEAN Secretariat.