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Asean must press on for 2025 vision, Chan Chun Sing tells Asean Economic Community Council

ASEAN has made “significant strides” in regional integration, but must press on towards its plan for 2025, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said at a gathering of his peers.

In opening remarks at the Asean Economic Community (AEC) Council’s meeting on Monday afternoon, Mr Chan said that the bloc remains committed to deepening regional economic integration through its AEC Blueprint 2025 vision.

“Against the backdrop of rising anti-globalisation sentiments and trade tensions, Asean will need to continue to stay open and connected, and leverage on (sic) our collective strength to navigate the disruptive trends and anchor our relevance to the global economy,” he told representatives at the council meeting, which was held at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Mr Chan noted that Asean’s economic ministers had just signed, on Monday morning, its first agreement on cross-border e-commerce, which would promote paperless trade, make it easier for companies to access and move data between countries, and boost consumer protection measures such as online dispute resolution.

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The Asean Agreement on E-commerce, which had been endorsed at the 50th Asean Economic Ministers Meeting in August, requires members to have laws and regulations on electronic transactions that take into account relevant international conventions or model laws.

Member states also reaffirmed, in the agreement, the need to cut costs and improve supply chain speed and reliability for cross-border e-commerce.

Other moves that Mr Chan cited as “critical milestones in Asean's transition towards AEC 2025” included an agreement on liberalising trade in services, and tweaks to open up and raise transparency in member states’ investment regimes.

Both those deals were wrapped up at the council meeting, with negotiations concluding for the Asean Trade in Services Agreement alongside the finalising of a protocol to amend the Asean Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA).

As part of the changes, Asean member states introduced commitments banning governments from requiring investors to meet specified goals before they can enter or expand in a market.

Singapore proposed specific performance requirements that cannot be imposed on investors and this framework was put into the ACIA as a binding commitment for Asean member states.

The bloc’s position is that performance requirements could distort or deter investment decisions, and that the commitments reached by Asean will give investors a guarantee against such requirements throughout the life cycle of their investments.

Member states committed not to restrict the sales of goods in their territories or link such sales to their exports or foreign exchange earnings. They will also not require investors to supply markets with goods produced exclusively by investments in their territories.

“When implemented, investors will enjoy greater certainty and fewer restraints on their investments in Asean,” Mr Chan said of the tweaks to the ACIA. “This will allow Asean to remain as an attractive and competitive investment destination.”

Singapore’s Ministry for Trade and Industry said in a media statement: “These outcomes, along with other economic deliverables achieved during Singapore’s chairmanship of Asean this year, is testament to Asean’s commitment to free and open trade by deepening the integration of its economies and realising the AEC Blueprint 2025 for sustained and long-term growth for the region.” 

The slew of initiatives, Mr Chan said in his opening remarks, comes as Asean starts to focus on emerging issues and opportunities - such as the digital economy, trade facilitation and good regulation.

Asean must “stay on track and press on with the implementation of AEC 2025”, he told delegates, stressing the need to be adaptable and agile, and look ahead to ensure sustainable growth.

Mr Chan later said in a statement: “I am heartened that we had a successful year and achieved the economic objectives we had set out for Singapore’s Asean chairmanship. These positive outcomes will position us for continued growth and allow all Asean member states to take advantage of the emerging opportunities in the digital economy.

“We are confident that the economic deliverables will bring about tangible benefits to our people and businesses. In the current context of an increasingly uncertain global trade environment, it is important that Asean presses on in its economic integration journey to unlock the region’s economic potential so that Asean remains resilient and future-ready.”