Asean ministers ink trade, services deals

Local businesses are in line for greater investment opportunities in Asean after the Asean Economic Ministers (AEM) on Wednesday signed two agreements to remove barriers to goods and services trade within the bloc.

According to Deputy Commerce Minister Chutima Bunyapraphasara, who attended this week’s 50th AEM meeting in Singapore, the ministers approved two agreements that are expected to benefit Asean’s service providers and exporters.

One of the two agreements is the 10th package of commitments for the Asean Framework Agreement on Services (Afas). The document is the final package of services liberalisation commitments under Afas, which was first signed in 1995.

The other agreement is the first protocol to amend the Asean Trade in Goods Agreement, which will introduce the necessary legal amendments in order to effect the Asean-wide self-certification scheme.

Besides signing the documents, the economic ministers endorsed Asean member states’ commitment to transit their Asean Comprehensive Investment Agreement Reservation Lists to a two-annex negative list structure, which will instil greater transparency and clarity on commitments taken by each nation.

The ministers also endorsed the Asean Agreement on E-Commerce, which is the first deal concerning e-commerce and is scheduled for signing on the sidelines of the 17th Asean Economic Community Council Meeting in November; and the Asean Digital Integration Framework, which will assist Asean member states in making improvements to the regional digital ecosystem and monitoring the region’s progress in digital integration.

“Under Afas, Thai businesses will be offered a greater opportunity to invest more in the service sector in the region, including tourism, hotels, restaurants, healthcare and services to the elderly,” Ms Chutima said.

The pact requires Thailand to open six more service businesses to Asean members next year: packet-switched data transmission services, circuit-switched data transmission services, electronic data interchange, freight transport, maintenance and repair services for liquid natural gas tanker ships of not more than 500 tonnes, and barge cleaning services.

Afas was signed in December 1995 in Bangkok, two years after Asean launched an initiative to work towards the Asean Free Trade Area for trade in goods.

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