ASEAN Trade Facilitation Forum: ASEAN-US Government and Business collaborative efforts to boost trade

Manado – Business representatives from ASEAN, the U.S. and the wider region came together as a group today in a direct dialogue with ASEAN Economic Ministers, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis, and senior officials for the first time, at the ASEAN Trade Facilitation Forum.

“Over the past several years, ASEAN has made significant advancements in liberalizing trade and investment, through major agreements both within the region and with +1 partners,” said Indonesian Minister of Trade Mari Elka Pangestu, who hosted the Forum. Mari Pangestu said that ASEAN is now focusing on trade facilitation measures to ensure the benefits from these agreements are fully achieved and realized, as well as to promote the participation of small and medium enterprises in the expanding regional economy. The effort to develop the role of SMEs in economic growth and job creation is the prominent focus of ASEAN 2011 under Indonesia’s Chairmanship and APEC 2011 under U.S. Chairmanship.

The Indonesian Ministry of Trade, the United States Mission to ASEAN and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) teamed up to organize the ASEAN Trade Facilitation Forum, an unprecedented one day meeting between businesses and governments in the sidelines of the 43rd ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting and related meetings in Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. The event was also supported by the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council.

In opening remarks to the Forum, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said the world had observed that ASEAN had put an ambitious trade integration program into motion. The extent to which ASEAN integration positively affects private sector interest and investment in the region depends on action. We are here today as a group, government officials and businesses together, to discuss trade facilitation measures that, if implemented, will make ASEAN a more favorable and competitive place to do business.

The ASEAN Secretariat, the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the ASEAN Business Advisory Council provided a snapshot of progress thus far on ASEAN economic integration. Dean and CEO of the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI), Masahiro Kawai, provided a long-term vision of ASEAN economic integration, presenting a collaborative study between ADB Institute and ASEAN Secretariat entitled ASEAN 2030: Growing Together for Shared Prosperity study during a Luncheon Talk attended by all East Asia Summit Ministers and business leaders. The overall growth aspiration for ASEAN to be articulated in the study is to achieve a “RICH ASEAN” by 2030, where RICH is an acronym for “resilient, inclusive, competitive and harmonious.”

“The challenge for a more prosperous ASEAN is strengthening and spreading the benefits of regional integration while playing a substantial and constructive role in global economic leadership,” said Masahiro Kawai.

Prominent Business representatives, coming from a variety of sectors, discussed priority trade facilitation measures that would improve trade flows in the region. This included improving regulatory transparency and establishing an effective e-border clearance process, harmonizing standards and conformity assessment procedures, and simplifying customs procedures and logistics. The discussion primarily will provide the opportunity for the private sector to gain substantial information on ASEAN’s work in pursuing AEC 2015, delivering comments and inputs on ASEAN’s progress in developing single market, and identifying priority areas to improve the efficiency of cross-border transactions. Business priorities were discussed directly with ASEAN Economic Ministers at the close of the day.

ASEAN Member States are working toward realizing an ASEAN Economic Community and single production base by 2015, aiming to transform ASEAN into a region with free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labor, and freer flow of capital. ASEAN represents a market of 8.8% of the world’s population and ranks as the 9th largest economy in the world and the 3rd largest in Asia in terms of nominal GDP.

The United States has been steadily increasing its cooperation with ASEAN. Total trade between the United States and ASEAN countries totaled more than US$ 146 billion in 2009, and United States investment stood at over $3.3 billion, accounting for over 8.5 percent of total foreign direct investment in the region. The United States Government is supporting ASEAN’s economic integration process through support to key trade facilitation measures, such as the ASEAN Single Window for customs clearance, standards technical assistance and cross-border supply chain integration.