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ASEAN wants unhampered flow of goods

On the issue of climate change, Secretary Lopez highlighted that President Rodrigo Duterte raised concerns on efforts of some countries in applying trade and environment requirements across the board.

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Economic ministers of countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region have aired a consensus backing on the assurance that flow of goods should not be hampered, especially essential food, fuel, medicines and medical equipment, as well as to focus on enhancing international cooperation, boosting investment and strengthening the rules based multilateral trading system.

This was after Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez urged his ASEAN counterparts to act swiftly on these pressing issues, during the ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) in Bali Indonesia that started 19 May, to tackle key trade concerns of ASEAN Member States (AMS), including the challenges faced by the region as effects of the recent lockdowns in China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We should focus on enhancing international cooperation, going beyond trade and pursuing other initiatives such as boosting investment and strengthening the rules based multilateral trading system. First, it is important that we (ASEAN) strengthen economic cooperation efforts and bring about real, honest to goodness integration,” Lopez told his counterparts.

The challenge of Lopez is amid concerns among AMS on recent export bans implemented in the region such as on rice, coal and palm oil and acknowledged efforts by other countries that have eventually removed such measures and called for the remaining bans to be lifted.

“I thank Indonesia for lifting the export ban on coal and studying the issue on palm oil, including the possibility of lifting the export ban by as early as the end of the month. We are one ASEAN, one family. We must care and support each other as our economies and peoples become even more closely linked,” he said.

Fortifying relationships

During the said meeting, the Ministers also vowed to deepen economic relations with external partners such as the United States (US) and European Union.

Part of the discussion was the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework of the US (IPEF), a proposed vehicle for strengthened US economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, gearing to operationalize shared objectives around trade facilitation, standards for the digital economy and technology, supply chain resiliency, decarbonization and clean energy, infrastructure, worker standards and other areas of shared interest.

The IPEF is set to be launched by leaders of participating countries when US President Joe Biden visits the region next week, viewed that the objectives of the said initiative are worth pursuing especially since it addresses inclusive growth, supply chain resilience and digital trade, among others, which are key elements in crafting new generation economic partnership.

Just like some other AMS, the Philippines confirmed that it will join the discussion in IPEF, as Lopez committed that the country would continue to champion more inclusive and diverse participation from other interested countries in the region, especially the ASEAN Member States.

“Further, as we move forward with our existing and new external engagements, we should adopt an ‘ASEAN as one’ framework where we champion the ASEAN Community’s priorities and interests in these other partnerships,” he added.

On the issue of climate change, Secretary Lopez highlighted that President Rodrigo Duterte raised concerns on efforts of some countries in applying trade and environment requirements across the board.

“There must be considerations and more discussions on how these are to be implemented as developing countries such as we are not the cause of climate change. We should be careful in applying these to developing economies as they are precisely still undergoing development and will need all the support. They also usually lack the capacity to immediately meet climate change requirements. Let us utilize our dialogue mechanisms with external partners to get support on this front, especially for MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises), as well as call on them to avoid applying trade measures that act as barriers against developing economies,” according to Lopez.

Moreover, the AEM revisited the implementation of ASEAN Industrial Projects from the early days of the regional grouping, being part of ASEAN’s regional industrialization efforts that entailed resource-pooling, market-sharing, networking and complementation.

These industrial development projects primarily aimed to promote sharing of the region’s vast resources and capitalize on each AMS’ comparative advantage in order to achieve economic growth and development at both the national and regional levels.

On the issue of the World Trade Organization, the Philippines forwarded the view that other rules-based mechanisms must be allowed to function including allowing for majority decision-making subject to a certain floor threshold, instead of always requiring a consensus.

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