Asean leaders sign pacts to reduce trade barriers, promote investment

(From left) Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing with his regional counterparts, Ms Chutima Bunyapraphasara from Thailand, Mr Tran Quoc Khanh from Vietnam, and Dato Dr Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah from Brunei, among others, at the Economic Ministers
(From left) Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing with his regional counterparts, Ms Chutima Bunyapraphasara from Thailand, Mr Tran Quoc Khanh from Vietnam, and Dato Dr Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah from Brunei, among others, at the Economic Ministers' Retreat in Phuket yesterday. Asean leaders signed the two agreements this week.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY

Two agreements signed by Asean leaders this week will reduce trade barriers for service suppliers and promote investment to the region.

The pacts were concluded under Singapore's Asean chairmanship last year and inked on the sidelines of an Economic Ministers' Retreat in Thailand this week, said the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) yesterday.

The Asean Trade in Services Agreement builds upon an earlier deal by reducing trade barriers for service suppliers, "creating a more stable and predictable environment... and setting the stage for future services integration and liberalisation", said MTI.

This includes establishing commitments such as reducing discriminatory regulatory barriers and creating a more transparent regime.

The pact involves member states adopting a "negative list approach" where all service sectors are considered liberalised by default. A state then lists sectors that have measures counter to its obligations.

"Services... (account for) more than 50 per cent of Asean's gross domestic product," MTI said yesterday. The sector employs over 2.7 million workers here, or more than 73 per cent of the labour force.

The other pact signed was the Fourth Protocol to Amend the Asean Comprehensive Investment Agreement, which removes barriers to investment.

Its enhancements include clearer and added commitments that prevent governments from imposing performance requirements on investors.

 
 
 

These requirements - stating that investment operations must meet specified goals as a condition for entering or expanding in a state - can distort or deter investment.

Inbound investments create about 20,000 jobs a year locally, MTI added, noting that Singapore is the second-largest investor in Asean with US$18.3 billion (S$24.8 billion) worth of investments in 2017.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, who attended the Phuket retreat, said: "Against the current backdrop of trade tensions and global uncertainty, Asean remains fully committed to free and open trade and regional economic integration."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2019, with the headline 'Asean leaders sign pacts to reduce trade barriers, promote investment'. Print Edition | Subscribe