• Greater market access key to increased EU-Asean trade

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    A FOREIGN business group is calling for greater market access in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in order to boost trade between the region and the European Union as economic integration nears.

    The EU-Asean Business Council, the voice of European business in Southeast Asia, recently released a region-wide position paper listing recommendations to boost market access and increase trade and investment between Europe and Asean.

    Europe is already the region’s largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) and there are various ways to open up markets even further in line with the Asean Economic Community Blueprint, the paper said.

    At the top of the list is the elimination of non-tariff barriers to trade.

    The paper noted a number of issues hampering market access across Asean, including cumbersome customs procedures, unpredictable application of regulations and procedures, restrictions on foreign ownership and foreign competition; and lack of harmonized standards or the lack of mutual recognition of such standards across the region.

    “The market access paper by the EU-Asean Business Council addresses a number of important issues including on regulatory frameworks, transparency and non-discrimination between economic operators, to further promote our impressive trade and investment links,” EU-ABC Executive Director Chris Humphrey said.

    At the same time, the European Union has also published its latest EU-Asean trade and investment statistics, which confirm that the European Union—the world’s largest economy—is Asean’s second most important trading partner after China, accounting for 13 percent of Asean’s trade in goods with the world.

    Between 2004 and 2014, Asean-EU trade grew at an annual compound rate of 4.7 percent and te balance of trade “is very much in Asean’s favor,” with the EU importing more from the region than it exports to it.

    The latest statistics also show that in 2013, the EU was Asean’s largest investor with 156 billion euros ($169 billion) in FDI stocks. In the same year the EU also accounted for 22 percent of investment flows into Asean, followed by Japan on 18.7 percent.

    The AEC—to be launched later this year—is welcomed by the European business community but is acknowledged as only the start of a longer process of regional integration as Asean looks to realize its full economic potential.

    Commenting on the market access paper, EU Ambassador to Singapore Michael Pulch said: “The paper comes at an important time as Asean prepares to launch the AEC later this year. The policy positions outlined in this paper are intended to help shape the post-2015 agenda, and will be discussed further when the European and Asean business community participate in a dialogue session with economic ministers from across Asean at the Asean-EU Business Summit in August.”

    The EU-Asean Business Council, jointly with the EU-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, will be organizing the annual Asean-EU Business Summit later this year. The summit will take place in Kuala Lumpur on August 23 and will bring together senior political, industry and academic leaders.

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