The focus of the discussions by Ministers at the AFTA Council Meeting was on initiatives aimed at further facilitating trade within the region. The initiatives discussed include elimination of non-tariff barriers that impede trade, simplification of rules and procedures of doing business and enhancing use of ICT in customs clearance of goods within the region. Y.B. Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed, Minister of International Trade and Industry represented Malaysia at the 25th AEM-AFTA Council Meeting.
The Ministers agreed that there is a need to institute an effective mechanism to address the issue of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) that has been frequently raised by the private sector from within and outside the region. In this context, the ASEAN Economic Ministers endorsed the Import Licensing Procedures Guidelines. The main purpose of the guidelines is to encourage greater transparency in rules and regulations and to provide advance notice to the private sector on any new measures that are going to be introduced.
On the issue of NTBs, Y.B. Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed pointed out that the scope for expanding intra-ASEAN trade to a higher level can be achieved if non-tariff barriers are eliminated. The Meeting agreed to the proposal by YB Dato Sri Mustapa that senior officials immediately undertake a stock take of all the non-tariff barriers that impede trade in the region. The Minister informed the Meeting that the Ministry has been receiving feedback on the non-tariff barriers imposed by a number of ASEAN countries against Malaysian products. In this context, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry will be engaging the various trade and industry associations within the next one month to obtain further feedback on problems faced by Malaysian businessmen in trading within the region.
The Ministers noted the progress in implementation of the pilot project on self - certification implemented since 1 November 2010 involving Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. Under the Pilot project, certified exporters are duly authorized to make out invoice declarations on the origin of goods exported under AFTA. The Ministers welcomed Thailand’s decision to join the pilot project in October 2011 and encouraged the other ASEAN Member States to join the scheme. Self-certification scheme has been one of the proposals submitted by the private sector as it will lead to not only reduced cost of doing business but also speedier movement of goods within the region. Noting the good progress made, the Ministers extended the duration of Pilot Project for another year.
Y.B. Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed highlighted that real benefits from the arrangement can only be realised if all ASEAN Member States participated in the event. The Minister informed that Malaysia has appointed 30 Certified Exporters initially to participate in the Scheme and that the Ministry is looking at increasing the number to include many more companies.
The Ministers also noted the other on-going work to facilitate intra-ASEAN trade, which includes improvements to Rules of Origin (ROO), creation of an ASEAN Trade Repository (ATR) and the progress in implementation of the ASEAN Single Window. The ATR will contain trade related information such as tariff reduction schedules, applicable rules of origin, non-tariff measures. ASEAN will be using the World Bank Ease of Doing Business trade facilitation and business indicators in moving forward ASEAN’s agenda on trade facilitation.
On the ASEAN Single Window, the Ministers agreed that 7 ASEAN countries (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) to start the Pilot ASEAN Single Window Project soon which is another significant step towards facilitating intra-ASEAN trade and enhancing the use of ICT to facilitate trade.