KUCHING: European Union (EU) trade expert calls for private sector to fully utilise the Asean Solutions for Investments, Services and Trade (ASSIST) as the best platform to address intra-Asean trade problems that limit small and medium enterprises’ (SMEs) ability to take advantage of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) — the regional integration agenda that has an end goal to facilitate the free movement of goods, services, investment and freer flow of capital across Asean.
The ASSIST initiative, under the support of Asean Regional Integration Support by the EU (ARISE) Plus, is a non-binding and consultative mechanism that helps expedite solutions for operational cross-border problems related to the implementation of Asean economic agreements encountered by Asean-based entities.
The online solution allows businesses encountering problems exporting goods or services (the latter effective second quarter of 2019) to other Asean countries to lodge e-complaints, interacting directly with Asean Member State (AMS) Governments.
Paolo R Vergano, trade facilitation key expert for ARISE Plus, said the private sector should increasingly assist Asean Member States in identifying and addressing Non-Tariff-Measures (NTMs), as well as removing Non-Tariff-Barriers (NTBs) within the region.
“This is exactly what ASSIST aims at delivering and the Asean business sector should take advantage of it. The ASSIST mechanics are simple, cost-effective, direct and meant to provide complainants with answers to their questions and solutions to their problems within two to three months.
Confidentiality and anonymity are guaranteed, when necessary, and ARISE Plus remains available to provide further capacity building and create greater awareness within the private sector, if need be,” Vergano said during a private briefing yesterday chaired by CIMB Asean Research Institute (CARI) chairman Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, called ‘Leveraging Asean solutions for trade through ASSIST’ held at Menara CIMB in Kuala Lumpur.
Complaints can be lodged on the ASSIST website with supporting documents anonymously or represented by an Asean-based trade association, business council, chamber of commerce, business federation, Asean-registered lawyer or law firm.
The Asean Secretariat will review the complaint and liaise with the relevant national bodies in the Asean country where the complainant is facing an issue for review.
If the complaint is accepted, the responsible authority in that country will seek an appropriate solution, which the complainant can then choose to accept or seek other dispute resolution avenues. The portal operates a tracking system and businesses utilising ASSIST can expect solutions within 60 working days.
ASSIST is an Asean trade facilitation initiative under the Asean Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) and AEC Blueprint 2025, which was established as part of the wider trade facilitation support that the European Union provides for Asean under its ARISE Plus programme, along with the Asean Trade Repository (ATR) and the Asean Customs and Transit System (ACTS), which ultimately all cater to the private sector.
Vergano said that trade facilitation is the key driver to enable the process of Asean regional economic integration and the fulfilment of the AEC. In particular, regulatory transparency is the bedrock of trade facilitation and a pre-requisite to traders complying with the applicable rules, protecting their rights, and taking advantage of the trade opportunities under the AEC.
“Having legislative and regulatory transparency in trade measures among Asean countries, including NTMs and trade-distorting NTBs, is critical.
“While Asean has adopted wide-ranging commitments towards greater transparency through the full operationalisation of the ATR and the related network of National Trade Repositories (NTRs) in all Asean countries, this process is, however, unfolding at a rather slow and asymmetrical speed among Asean Member States.
“The Asean private sector should encourage Governments to comply fully with these obligations, which are fundamental to regional integration and economic development,” Vergano said.
Munir concurred with the call for the SMEs to capitalise this platform while pursuing other channels of resolution.
“Frustrations in trade in goods and services are still far too many in Asean. The ASSIST mechanism is one way to break down these impediments. Companies, especially SMEs, encountering these problems, should use it, even as efforts to address trade barriers are addressed at the policy level,” Munir said.