Economic ministers okay Asean priorities

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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has adopted nine out of 11 priority deliverables aimed at fostering further integration of the 10-member bloc, the Trade department said on Friday.

These include the Asean Seamless Trade Facilitation Indicators (ASTFI) where the bloc will set benchmarks and targets towards making the region more conducive for doing business by 2025.

“In particular, ASTFI can assist the Philippines in improving efforts in implementing policy, regulations, and procedures for seamless import and export of goods in the region,” Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo told a news conference during the second day of the 49th Asean Economic Ministers’ Meeting in Pasay City.

“It can also facilitate the reduction of trade transaction costs, thereby increasing trade flows and improving competitiveness,” he added.

Also adopted were the Asean Work Program on Electronic Commerce 2017 to 2025; Asean Inclusive Business Framework; Focused and Strategic (FAST) Action Agenda on Investment; Asean Trade in Services Agreement (ATISA); a comprehensive country visit in October 2017; Action Agenda on Mainstreaming Women Economic Empowerment in the Asean economic community; Asean declaration on innovation; and the launch earlier this year of the Asean Roll-on Roll-off (RORO) Davao-General Santos-Bitung route.

The adoption of the e-commerce program means the Philippines can now utilize the potentials of technological breakthroughs and digital innovations such as online trading, which officials said would be vital in mainstreaming the participation of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in both international and domestic economic activities.

MSMEs will likewise benefit from FAST via business matching activities to forge collaborations with global and Asean multinationals as well as expand within the region.

ATISA, meanwhile, will secure an environment for Filipinos and Asean professionals to be able “to mutually take advantage of the opportunities in relation to the growing intra-Asean market.”

“ATISA would also help facilitate freer movement of Filipino and other Asean skilled labor in professional services, particularly in the practice of accountancy, engineering, architecture, computer-related services, and other business services across the region,” Rodolfo said.

The RORO project, meanwhile, is expected to benefit Filipino producers, especially those located in Mindanao and Palawan “as they grow their businesses and link their markets to Bitung and the rest of Indonesia using a time-efficient transportation means from the previous 3 to 5 weeks to the current one day and a half.”

Still to be approved, meanwhile, are the Asean-wide Self-Certification Scheme and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

“These are the two remaining ones that we continue to work on. The RCEP — there would be a ministerial meeting this Sunday (September 10) so this would be the main focus,” Rodolfo said.

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