ASEAN can prosper with removal of non-tariff barriers, better connectivity

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KUALA LUMPUR (March 8): ASEAN as a regional grouping would certainly continue to grow, while at the same time there is a need to focus on connectivity and efforts to remove non-tariff barriers to trade (NTBs), said Thai Ambassador to Malaysia Narong Sasitorn.

The ambassador said the 10-member grouping needs to strive for the removal of NTBs in order to achieve a seamless economy. Thailand is the chair of ASEAN this year under a rotating system.

Despite attaining free trade arrangement through the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) agreement, the average tariff in ASEAN countries is still at 4.5 percent. However, it is a huge achievement made by the grouping when compared to the figure of 8.9 percent in 2000.

“We have to continue what we had been trying to do. Certainly, ASEAN will continue to grow and perhaps do a little bit more on connectivity and efforts to remove NTBs,” Narong told Bernama International News Service, here, recently.

He was met after the Friends of Thailand Circle Talk Series: Navigating ASEAN in a Turbulent World. The programme was organised for the first time by the Royal Thai Embassy of Kuala Lumpur to promote a better understanding of ASEAN.

On connectivity, Narong said this needs time as ASEAN is a big grouping of 10 member countries (Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) with developmental gaps between members.

He pointed out that a project with seamless connectivity between the Thailand-Malaysia border was one of the examples to promote connectivity and mobility.

Early this year, Thailand and Malaysia agreed to extend the operating hours at the Sadao Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine Checkpoint (CIQ) in Thailand and Bukit Kayu Hitam Immigration, Customs, Quarantine, Security Checkpoint (ICQS) in Malaysia to 24 hours from 18 hours previously.

Starting April 1, the 24-hour operation will run for a three-month trial period for heavy vehicles and business cargo.

“We will start to see more facilitation and liberalisation between the two countries like this. This small step will make us move ahead,” Narong said.

On the South China Sea issue, the ambassador explained that while the issue is about territorial dispute, it also involves peace and stability of the region.

“For that reason, I think ASEAN has something to say and a role to play to ensure peace and stability in the region,” he added.

ASEAN was established on Aug 8, 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines to promote economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the Southeast Asian region through multilateral cooperation.

Today, ASEAN includes Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, and have a combined Gross Domestic Product of US$2.8 trillion. It is the third largest market, populated by over 600 million people with a growing middle class.