Asean economic meeting to focus on 12 top issues

Asean economic meeting to focus on 12 top issues

As chair of Asean this year, Thailand is set to host the first senior economic official meeting (Seom) during Jan 12-18 in Bangkok, highlighting 12 key economic issues as top priorities.

Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of Trade Negotiations Department, said the issues for the first Seom comprise how to reduce transaction costs by 10% in 2020, and preparing to become an Industry 4.0 economy led by automation and robotics.

Talks will also centre on the development of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to prepare for the digital economy and connectivity.

Ms Auramon said a guideline for Asean's non-tariff measures (NTMs) is needed to reduce trade obstacles, under the principles of transparency and non-discrimination.

Asean members should consult affected parties before applying the NTMs, she said, adding the expansion of the Asean single window (ASW) customs system needs to cover all 10 Asean members. The ASW is a regional initiative that connects and integrates the national single windows of Asean member states.

The ASW is used in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

She said talks will also focus on the linkage of Asean food with tourism destinations and sustainable fishery development.

"More importantly, we need to develop mutual recognition agreements [MRAs] in the automotive sector so the agreements can be concluded this year," she said. "Thailand also wants to push for the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership [RCEP] within this year."

The RCEP was launched in November 2012 with the aim of establishing deeper economic cooperation among the 10 Asean members and six dialogue partners (China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, New Zealand). Member countries represent 29% of global trade and have a combined population of 3.35 billion.

RCEP is often seen as a rival to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a vast regional pact once led by the US that President Trump withdrew from early in his tenure.

Together with the One Belt, One Road initiative to build investment and trade links with countries along the old Silk Road to Europe, the pact is a key element in China's efforts to seize a geopolitical advantage following what many in the region see as a US retreat.

In a related development, Ms Auramon said trade negotiators vow this year to accelerate free trade agreement negotiations with Turkey, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan and aim to conclude the talks within 2020.

Regarding the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a new trade bloc of 11 Pacific Rim nations excluding the US, she said Thailand is also preparing to join the CPTPP after the elections.

Last December, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who is in charge of the economy, said Thailand would not join the CPTPP during this government's term, as there is not sufficient time to prepare.

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