Consultation on a Rules-Based ASEAN: Process of Forging Legal Instruments

Singapore, May 16th, 2018 – The U.S. Government through the ASEAN-U.S. Partnership for Good Governance, Equitable and Sustainable Development and Security (PROGRESS) project and in close partnership with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and GIZ supported the ASEAN Secretariat to organize the third “Consultation on a Rules-Based ASEAN” May 16th to 17th in Singapore. Over 50 stakeholders from relevant ASEAN Sectoral Bodies, Ministries of Foreign Affairs of ASEAN Member States, the ASEAN Secretariat, academia, and legal experts gathered in Singapore to discuss ASEAN as a rules-based institution with a particular focus on the process of forging legal agreements.
The consultation is a continuing discourse on critical elements related to assisting ASEAN to realize its aspiration of becoming more of a rules-based institution. The first consultation held in late 2015, brought together ASEAN Senior Officials, academia, and the ASEAN Secretariat to discuss what it means to be “rules based” and ultimately led to the ASEAN Secretariat’s development of a “practical reporting system” to report on the implementation of ASEAN agreements. The practical reporting system—endorsed during the second consultation in 2017—is an evolving data gathering tool through which relevant ASEAN Secretariat desk officers report on the status of the implementation of ASEAN legal instruments. Already the data from the initial batch of 29 agreements informed the ASEAN Secretary General’s report to the ASEAN Leaders at the first 2018 ASEAN Summit in Singapore in April.

During his keynote address, Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Deputy Executive Director of RSIS and former ASEAN Secretary-General, reminded participants that ASEAN has been a rules-based institution since its inception in 1967, however, he stressed that the specific mechanisms to define the rules continues to evolve. During his opening remarks, His Excellency Dr A.K.P. Mochtan, Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN, highlighted the importance of ensuring effective and efficient coordination among relevant ASEAN Sectoral Bodies and stakeholders to implement legal instruments, particularly those that are cross-cutting in nature, and—importantly to socialize the rules and procedures to operationalize provisions of legal instruments.

Through the first three sessions of this year’s consultation, participants discussed some of the challenges ASEAN faces in implementing its agreements and the current process for developing, negotiating, and agreeing on new legal instruments and agreements. Participants also discussed ways to better engage civil society, including private sector, to help ASEAN initiate, draft, negotiate, agree to, and—ultimately—implement agreements. During day two’s sessions, the consultation will explore why certain legal instruments and/or their specific provisions are more difficult to implement than others and seek ways to more effectively address specific challenges.