ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Asean trade ministers push to end tariffs
Asean members ready for regional integration under the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 may proceed with the plan ahead of the others, says Srirat Rastapana, director-general of Thailand's Trade Negotiations Department.
The latest position was reached among senior Asean officials meeting on the island of Sulawesi on Wednesday.
They found that some countries are not ready to eliminate trade barriers completely by the deadline.
For example, Thailand is still having problems with parliamentary ratification of international agreements under Section 190 of the constitution.
Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu, the chairman of the Asean economic ministers, said the meeting discussed the progress and challenges of implementing the AEC blueprint in 2015.
In the six more developed members - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand - tariffs were eliminated on 99.11 percent of all goods as of last year.
But the four less developed countries - Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam - levy tariffs between zero and 5 percent on 98.86 percent of goods.
Ms. Srirat said Asean remained an attractive investment destination, with foreign direct investment (FDI) seeing a dramatic rise last year.
However, both governments and the private sectors in the region must continue regulatory improvements to maximise the benefits of regional cooperation.
FDI to Southeast Asia totaled US$75.8 billion last year, double the amount in 2009 and a significant improvement from a contraction of 37.8 percent in 2008. Investors were mainly from the EU (22.4 percent), the US (11.3 percent) and Japan (11.1 percent).
Service sector investment continued to increase last year, reaching $49.2 billion or 65 pwercent of FDI. Investment in the manufacturing sector was $21 billion or 28%.
Ms. Srirat said that businesses in Thailand must continue working on self-certification to meet rules of product origin under the Asean Free Trade Area (Afta).
Doing so will help to increase the efficiency of private sector utilisation of Afta privileges, she added.
A source said the Thai Industrial Standards Institute also needed urgent improvements in product standards to meet future Asean standards.
Thailand should continue working on this issue, as it would beef up consumer safety and the readiness of local industries to become a regional production hub, said the source.
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