Countries across South East Asia have released national plans to capitalise on the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 in the last month. Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand have all recently revealed plans on how they intend to enhance national competitiveness in preparation for a more open regional economic community.

Former Deputy-Secretary General of ASEAN and Principal Advisor of the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) Mr Pushpanathan Sundram said it is encouraging to see such strong action that will also involve the private sector across ASEAN nations as the region prepares for the 2015 deadline.

“There are huge potential benefits for the food industry. The agri-food sector is critical to the ASEAN economies, indirectly involving employment of around 235 million people in ASEAN. ASEAN nations are taking the 2015 deadline seriously and are using the next 18-20 months to put in place the right plans, processes, infrastructure and environment to enhance national and regional competitiveness.”

Last month, the Indonesian government announced that a national committee will be formed to ensure the country’s market competitiveness. The inter-ministerial committee is tasked with identifying and highlighting opportunities and challenges the Government and private sector might face after the opening of ASEAN’s single market. It will also focus on enhancing the competitiveness of Indonesia’s main exports to ensure the country will be able to reap the benefits of market integration.

In Thailand, the Ministry of Commerce has released a blueprint for Government agencies to implement AEC in March next year. This framework focuses on deepening public-private partnerships and Thailand’s competitiveness by enhancing trade negotiations with ASEAN and other international forums; increasing understanding of the AEC across Government and the private sector; developing a gateway for trade services by the Ministry of Commerce in Bangkok; enhancing trade infrastructure including e-commerce and logistics supply chains; enhancing provincial ties for those bordering ASEAN partners and improving economic and trade laws to support trade. The framework also places an importance on developing a strong pipeline of human resources.

More recently, the Philippines Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Committee for AEC, a government inter-agency committee set up to prepare for the regional integration, made plans to host its first event. The event was designed to bring together private and public sectors to align trade and economic interests in ASEAN. The discussion focused on tackling competiveness as a driver of growth, deeper private sector engagement in the region’s economic integration process and the adoption of a strong and harmonised national game plan.

Philippines Trade Undersecretary Adrian Cristobal said in a statement that “sustained engagements with the private sector have proven helpful in identifying issues and focusing on areas that require intervention”. He noted that the “private sector has been aggressive in gearing up for competition and complementation” and the Government is focused on addressing non-tariff barriers so the country can benefit from more intra-ASEAN trade.

While Malaysia’s International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed recently said Malaysia is equally on track to deliver “most of the measures under the ASEAN EC”, he added ASEAN members need to take a more active role in addressing regulator barriers in order to achieve a dynamic single market.

Mr Sundram, agreed there are still many regulatory constraints inhibiting a truly integrated market that ASEAN will have to tackle head-on.

“There are still a wider range of non-tariff barriers that are hindering the free flow of food products around the region. ASEAN needs to focus on recognising and eventually harmonising food standards to unleash the potential of one of ASEAN’s most important intra-regional exports.

“AFBA has been focused working with policy makers to help accelerate the harmonisation of food standards around the region; however there is still a lot more work to be done by and beyond 2015.

“We welcome the opportunity to engage with ASEAN members on these issues as part of their national plans to bring in the business perspective integral for the realisation of the ASEAN Economic Community,” he said.

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