Asean is fast-tracking digital transformation and more FTAs, officials say

SUNDAY, JUNE 04, 2023

Asean will focus on increasing the use of digital technology to expand trade and enhance economic cooperation among its 10 member states, according to a recent meeting of senior economic officials who oversee the bloc’s economic agenda for this year.

Asean will also continue trade talks with six “dialogue partners” with the goal of establishing new free trade agreements (FTAs) or expanding existing ones, said Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Department of International Trade Negotiations.

Auramon said senior economic officials from Asean as well as dialogue partner countries met in Jakarta late last month for talks. They will submit a report on the progress of FTA talks ahead of the Asean Economic Ministers' Meeting in August, he said.

The dialogue partners include the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, India, and Canada.

One goal is to fast track FTA negotiations that are already underway, Auramon said.

Duangarthit Nidhi-u-tai, deputy director-general of the Department of Trade Negotiations, said the focus of last month’s talks in Jakarta was on goals due to be completed this year. They include:

1. Concluding the Asean-Australia-New Zealand FTA.

2. Establishing the framework for the Asean Digital Economy Agreement so that leaders can announce the beginning of talks on the agreement this year.

3. Implementing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

4. Accelerating internal processes so that member countries can sign completed economic agreements, such as the protocol for amending the Asean Framework Agreement on the Movement of Natural Persons and the Asean Food Security Regulatory Framework.

5. Accelerating negotiations for enhancing the Asean Trade in Goods Agreement and reporting progress by August.

Asean has been monitoring the adoption of digital-technology systems to expand trade, including developing a platform that simplifies the search for region-wide customs duties, non-tariff measures, and related information.

It is also planning to implement a Unique Business Identification Number system, linking corporate registration numbers throughout Asean to generate confidence in intra-regional business operations. Duangarthit said Asean is also pushing for the full adoption of electronic Certificates of Origin to facilitate paperless trade.

He said that at last month’s meeting in Jakarta, “discussions were also held with trading partners, including the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, India, and Canada”, saying the talks “aimed to enhance economic cooperation and focus on emerging trade areas, such as the digital economy and e-commerce, circular economy, labour, and environment”.

‘“In particular, progress was made in the negotiations for FTAs with China, India, and South Korea, while discussions with Canada are ongoing for the development," he said, adding that Asean aims to boost intra-regional trade to US$1.2 trillion by 2025,

Trade between Thailand and other Asean states was $124.89 billion last year. Exports totalled $71.89 billion and imports totalled $53 billion.

In the first quarter of this year, trade between Thailand and other Asean states reached $30.63 billion, down 1.1% year on year. Exports totalled $17.17 billion and imports totalled $13.46 billion, Duangarthit said.