MANILA: Non-tariff measures in Southeast Asia have nearly quadrupled between 2000 and 2015, presenting a key challenge as the region moves toward further economic integration, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Friday.
Speaking at a business forum on the sidelines of the Assocaition of Southeast Asian Nations annual summit, Najib said tariffs in the 10-member bloc averaged around 4.0 percent in 2015.
However, non-tariff barriers and measures soared to 5,975 in 2015 from 1,634 in 2000, he said.
“This has to be checked and reversed,” Najib told top business executives and entrepreneurs attending the forum.
Asean groups 10 countries with different political systems and varying levels of economic development from affluent Singapore to impoverished Laos.
The group has established a free-trade area among themselves aiming to slash tariffs on most goods to zero and minimize non-tariff barriers as well as facilitate the easier movement of capital and people.
It has also signed free-trade deals with key trading partners such as Japan and China.
Asean’s combined economy is expected to be worth $9.2 trillion by 2050, which would make it the fourth biggest economy in the world if it were a country, Najib said.
The bloc’s collective economy was worth around $3.0 trillion in 2015, he said.
But Najib noted that for Asean to reach the 2050 target, non-tariff barriers must be trimmed by 50 percent.
“There is no alternative if we wish to be able to seize that prize. So huge, coordinated efforts are required to deal with this problem,” he said. AFP