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AEC Updates: January 2016 to June 2017

Since the formal establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) on 31 December 2015, the AEC Blueprint 2025 was developed to guide the strategic direction of regional economic integration in ASEAN for the next 10 years. The new Blueprint was adopted at the 27th ASEAN Summit in November 2015 and outlines the characteristics and elements of the AEC 2025 as well as the strategic measures to be pursued. The new Blueprint envisions an AEC which, by 2025, is highly integrated and cohesive; competitive, innovative and dynamic; with enhanced connectivity and sectoral cooperation; more resilient, inclusive, and people-oriented, peoplecentred, and is integrated with the global economy.

Since 2016, the inaugural year of the AEC, most sectoral work plans under the various AEC ministerial bodies have been adopted to operationalise the strategic measures outlined in the Blueprint. (update: All 23 AEC sectoral work plans have already been finalised in 2017.)

Furthermore, to complement the AEC Blueprint 2025, the AEC 2025 Consolidated Strategic Action Plan (CSAP) – a public document – was endorsed by the AEM and AEC Council Ministers on 6 February 2017 and provides a comprehensive picture of the key action lines drawn from the sectoral work plans. The CSAP is aimed at improving information outreach and instilling stakeholder confidence, and will be updated periodically until 2025.

The implementation of the AEC Blueprint 2025 and its corresponding sectoral work plans will be supported by the AEC 2025 Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Framework , which replaced the AEC 2015 Scorecard. Finalised in September 2016, the Framework improves on the previous AEC monitoring system by going beyond compliance monitoring to incorporate outcomes monitoring and impact evaluation, with support from the ASEAN Community Statistical System (ACSS). A workshop on the Framework was held on 7 February 2017 back to back with the 7th Meeting of the Committee of the Whole for the AEC.

In placing trade facilitation at the very core of ASEAN’s commitment to market integration, the ASEAN Economic Ministers adopted the ASEAN Trade Facilitation Framework in 2016 and, at their 23rd Retreat in March 2017, set the target to reduce 10% of trade transaction costs by 2020. The work of the ASEAN Trade Facilitation Joint Consultative Committee (ATF-JCC), comprising of both public and private sector representatives, along with those of other relevant sectoral bodies, is critical in achieving this target. On the international front, the entry into force of the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade Facilitation in February 2017 has provided an additional impetus for ASEAN to pursue trade facilitation initiatives.

In support of trade facilitation, web-based platforms have been put in place. The ASEAN Trade Repository (ATR) is a one-stop online database on ASEAN trade- and customs-related information where the public can also access the information available on the National Trade Repositories (NTRs) of each AMS. Linked to the ATR is the ASEAN Tariff Finder, a cost-free search engine for tariff and tariff related information under ASEAN and ASEAN Plus 1 free trade agreements (FTAs).

The ASEAN Solutions for Investments, Services and Trade (ASSIST) is now fully operational, a non-binding and consultative mechanism for the expedited and effective solution of operational problems encountered by ASEAN-based enterprises on cross-border issues related to the implementation of ASEAN economic agreements.

The ASEAN Agreement on Movement of Natural Persons (MNP) entered into force in June 2016 and will help establish streamlined and transparent procedures for applying immigration formalities to those covered by the agreement, further facilitating the movement of ASEAN people engaging in trade in goods, trade in services and investment.

To stimulate innovation, the revamped ASEAN Intellectual Property (IP) Portal provides a consolidated platform to access comprehensive IP information, including the databases on trademarks, geographical indications, and case laws.

Acknowledging the growing importance of electronic commerce (e-Commerce) in the region, ASEAN has recently established the ASEAN Coordinating Committee on Electronic Commerce (ACCEC), and is in the process of finalising the ASEAN Work Programme on e-Commerce. (Update: Click here to view the elements of the ASEAN Work Programme on e-Commerce 2017-2025.)

The maiden voyage of the ASEAN Roll-on Roll-off (RORO) Sea Linkage Route between Davao–General Santos (the Philippines)– Bitung (Indonesia), launched by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo on 30 April 2017 in Davao City, Philippines is a major milestone achieved by ASEAN in transport facilitation to enhance connectivity in the region. The completion of the System and Parallel Test Runs of the Pilot ASEAN Customs Transit System (ACTS), a computerised customs transit management system, in three participating ASEAN Member States – namely Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand – is another such milestone.

With the commemoration of ASEAN’s 50th anniversary, the Visit ASEAN@50: Golden Celebration Campaign was launched, with its highlight being the 50 special tour packages carefully selected by the ASEAN Member States and supported by globally-recognised companies. In addition to the adoption of the Pakse Declaration on ASEAN Roadmap for Strategic Development of Ecotourism Clusters and Corridors, ASEAN has also launched the ASEAN Sustainable Tourism Award (ASTA) in 2017, which will be awarded every two years starting 2018, to recognise efforts that support sustainable tourism and mainstream the implementation of the ASEAN Tourism Standards.

Progress in the AEC also covers efforts to further strengthen the role of the private sector particularly the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). The ASEAN Institutional Framework on Access to Finance for MSMEs, adopted in August 2016, enables better understanding of the kind of supportive environment, in terms of institutional set up and infrastructure, that is needed to enhance MSMEs access to both traditional and alternative financing. 

Consultative processes between AEC sectoral bodies and the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC) representatives and lead private sector entities (business associations and councils) are being institutionalised to support the implementation of initiatives under the various sectoral work plans.

The Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) Work Plan III was adopted in 2016, and provides special assistance to Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam (CLMV) to further regional integration in order to narrow the development gap within ASEAN.

On external economic relations, negotiations of the ASEAN-Hong Kong, China FTA are on track towards the targeted conclusion this year. (Update: The ASEAN-Hong Kong,China FTA and Investment Agreement have been signed in 2017.) Formal region-to-region talks on a framework setting out the parameters of a future Free Trade Agreement between ASEAN and the European Union has also been launched. ASEAN also remains committed to the swift conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the centerpiece of ASEAN’s external economic relations work.

In 2017, under the Chairmanship of the Philippines and the theme of “Inclusive, Innovation-led Growth”, priorities have been identified in line with strategic measures of increasing trade and investment, integrating MSMEs in the Digital Economy, and developing an innovation-driven economy. In support of these strategic measures, the ASEAN-BAC organised the “Prosperity for All” Summit on 28 April 2017, which brought together key institutions and professionals to collaborate and champion the cause of MSME empowerment towards inclusive growth.

Likewise, ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN) and the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines (WBCP) brought together women leaders and prominent business leaders from the region at their “Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.) Ahead in ASEAN,” held on 16-17 March 2017 in Manila.

This articles also appears in the 1st issue of the ASEAN Economic Integration Brief released in June 2017.