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Business

DTI pushes for unhampered flow of goods in ASEAN

Louella Desiderio - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has emphasized the need to strengthen cooperation and to ensure unhampered flow of goods within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to promote regional integration.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said it is important for ASEAN to strengthen economic cooperation efforts and bring about real integration.

“We should focus on enhancing international cooperation, going beyond trade and pursuing other initiatives such as boosting investment, and strengthening the rules-based multilateral trading system.”

Lopez raised these as ASEAN economic ministers convened a face-to-face special meeting for the first time since the pandemic started two years ago to discuss key trade concerns.

“Most importantly at this time, we need to ensure that there are no restrictions on trade so as to allow the unhampered flow of goods, especially essential food, fuel, medicines, and medical equipment,” the DTI chief said.

There were concerns among ASEAN members on export bans on rice, coal and palm oil in the region.

Even with a pandemic, the Philippines did not impose a ban on exports of facemasks and the move brought benefits to the country in terms of increased manufacturing capacity for medical-grade and internationally certified facemasks, and investments in a melt-blown filter facility.

Lopez acknowledged efforts of countries that have removed the ban on exports and called for the lifting of the remaining restrictions.

“I thank Indonesia for lifting the export ban on coal and studying the issue on palm oil, including the possibility of lifting the export ban by as early as the end of the month. We are one ASEAN, one family. We must care and support each other as our economies and peoples become even more closely linked,” Lopez said.

During the meeting, ASEAN economic ministers also agreed to deepen economic relations with external partners such as the US and European Union.

With the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework or the US’ proposed vehicle for stronger engagement in the Indo-Pacific region set to be launched, the Philippines said it would join the discussions for the framework.

According to Lopez, the Philippines would continue to champion more inclusive and diverse participation from other interested countries in the region, especially the ASEAN member states.

“Further, as we move forward with our existing and new external engagements, we should adopt an ‘ASEAN as one’ framework where we champion the ASEAN Community’s priorities and interests in these other partnerships,” Lopez added.

On unilateral actions on the environment and climate change that may potentially affect trade activities in the region, the DTI chief said there is a need for more discussions on how these are to be implemented.

“We should be careful in applying these to developing economies as they are precisely still undergoing development and will need all the support. They also usually lack the capacity to immediately meet climate change requirements. Let us utilize our dialogue mechanisms with external partners to get support on this front, especially for MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises), as well as call on them to avoid applying trade measures that act as barriers against developing economies,” Lopez said.

The Philippines also expressed support in revisiting the implementation of the ASEAN Industrial Projects (AIP) which form part of regional industrialization efforts.

According to Lopez, the private sector, particularly the leading companies in major sectors, should be part of the exercise.

“It should follow the principle of developing an ASEAN value-chain so that various stages of production can be distributed to several member-states to spread the benefits of industry development,” Lopez said.

The ASEAN Business Advisory Council may be tapped for this to look into possible projects in critical sectors such as food, health infrastructure, climate sustainability, and clean energy.

The DTI chief concluded that recent legislative reforms such as the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act, amendments to the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, Foreign Investments Act, and Public Service Act are expected to put the country at the forefront of investors’ interest.

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