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During the 26th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Retreat hosted in the central city of Danang last week, the ASEAN released a statement showing concern on the spread of the pandemic, which has affected the people and economies worldwide.
In order to avoid further adverse impacts in the global economy, a series of solutions were also highlighted in the statement including strengthening long-term supply chain resilience and sustainability, by including the promotion of better transparency, agility, diversification and, in particular, the implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025.
This initiative portraits a timely effort to cope with the outbreak. During the conference, 12 of the 13 priorities proposed by Vietnam were approved by members aiming to sustainable development and effective operation.
In the remarks, Vietnamese Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh, vice chairman of the National ASEAN 2020 Committee, stressed the adoption of initiatives that help consolidate the ASEAN’s role towards strengthening regional solidarity, intra-regional strength, and enhancing the role of the ASEAN Economic Community.
The economic ministers of the 10 ASEAN countries agreed that counter-measure restrictions on cross-border movements should be based on public health considerations, and should not unnecessarily restrict trade within the region. Moreover, the ministers agreed to take a collective course of action to mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leaders resolved to remain committed in keeping the ASEAN market open for trade and investment, while strengthening regional information sharing and co-ordination and collaboration efforts in responding to the economic challenges brought about by the outbreak.
They also vowed to work closely with industry stakeholders to instil confidence in Southeast Asia as a trade and investment hub, and tourism destination in the region.
Furthermore, the bloc will leverage on technologies and digital trade to allow businesses, especially the micro, small and medium enterprises to continue operations amidst the outbreak.
Other measures discussed included strengthening long-term supply chain resilience; enhancing bloc co-operation with external and development partners; and building on existing trade facilitation platforms such as the ASEAN Single Window to promote and support chain connectivity.
Also at the retreat, the ASEAN countries have agreed to persuade India to return to the negotiating table for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that is expected to be signed this year. India opted out suddenly last November.
Negotiations for the RCEP, which started in 2012, have targeted strengthening economic co-operation among the 10 ASEAN members with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, and New Zealand. The countries partaking in the RCEP negotiations are home to 30 per cent of the world’s population and 29 per cent of the world’s GDP.
Once concluded, the RCEP will not only represent the largest free trade area in the world but also serve as an ASEAN-led framework for regional trade architecture. Furthermore, as multilateral trade - and multilateralism in general - comes under pressure, there is a need for the ASEAN to play a more active role in upholding the open and rules-based multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization as noted by ASEAN Integration report 2019.
Vietnam reaffirmed that it would continue to work closely with the other ASEAN countries in maintaining the leading role of the bloc. Moreover, the current chair aims to conclude negotiations with the five partner countries of the RCEP ahead of schedule and quickly complete all legal reviews of the agreed content to prepare for signing.