Asean still slow to remove non-tariff and service trade barriers: Lim Hng Kiang

SINGAPORE - The plan for Asean to forge an integrated economic community (AEC) by the end of this year has made progress, but areas such as the removal of non-tariff and service trade barriers have lagged behind, said Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang.

Mr Lim was speaking on Wednesday at the Asean Conference 2015.

He said: "Non-tariff barriers in Asean are many. We know that many of you who operate in Asean face problems at and behind the borders. You grapple with customs processes, documentation requirements, and a complex regulatory environment within Asean."

The minister urged regional countries to be more proactive in moving towards elimination of non-tariff barriers.

"In today's competitive environment, Asean must enable foreign services providers to compete on the same footing as local companies," he said.

Regional governments must also step up to ensure the ratification of the Asean Open Skies agreements are completed by end of this year, Mr Lim urged.

Nonetheless, the efforts to create AEC has shown results, he said. Tariffs have been removed for exports of Asean-originating products between member states. Investments have also been liberalised between select states - Singapore healthcare providers, for example, can now fully own medical and dental services in Vietnam.

Economic integration in Southeast Asia will be a key step to further unlock the region's robust growth potential as developed economies continue to struggle with slowdown, said Mr Lim.

But Asean must not stop at economic link-ups, he said. Inclusive development and integration with markets beyond Southeast Asia must be part of Asean's plan going forward, Mr Lim stressed.