Amid the backdrop of steady economic recovery, high-ranking officials from the 10 Member States of ASEAN gathered in the Philippines for the second time this year to finalize recommendations that could further bolster the region’s trade and investment flows.

ASEAN Task Force recommends boosting intra-regional trade and investment
HLTF-EI Leads from L-R: Deputy Director General Prasith Suon (Cambodia), Director General Iman Pambagyo (Indonesia), Director General Saysana Sayakone (Lao PDR), Secretary General Datuk Jayasiri Jayasena (Malaysia), HLTF-EI Chair and Permanent Secretary Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi (Brunei Darussalam), Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo (Philippines), Permanent Secretary Loh Khum Yean (Singapore), Deputy Director General Ronnarong Phoolpipat (Thailand), and Director General Luong Hoang Thai (Viet Nam). Also in attendance was AEC Deputy Secretary-General Lim Hong Hin.

The High-Level Task Force on ASEAN Economic Integration (HTLF-EI) is composed of trade vice-ministers and serves as the visionary body for progressing the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). It convened its 32nd Meeting on 1 – 2 August 2017 in Makati City in preparation for the upcoming 49th ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) Meeting in September 2017. The HLTF-EI is primarily responsible for ensuring that the 10 ASEAN economies are on-track and on-time with the plans and programs intended to realize regional economic integration and achieve the vision of an AEC. The Philippines was led by DTI Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo.

Among the issues discussed for Economic Ministers’ consideration include the rapidly changing global economic environment and current technological and scientific advancements brought about by the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR). The HLTF-EI underscored the need for ASEAN to be well prepared and in a position to maximize the opportunities from 4IR to foster the region’s economic growth, and promote inclusive and equitable economic development.

The HLTF-EI exchanged views on the need to strengthen ASEAN’s centrality and leadership in driving the RCEP negotiations, as well as in working towards the timely completion of the priority economic deliverables set by the Philippines for its Chairmanship of ASEAN 2017.

“As established in the AEC 2025, the region needs to be together to mitigate the changes. Regional economic integration must therefore be strengthened, with the target to narrow down the development gaps and look into raising intra-ASEAN trade and investment,” HLTF-EI Chair Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi remarked.

Latest forecasts from the International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank indicate that the pickup in global growth remains on track especially in developing economies, with global output projected to grow by 3.5% in 2017 and 3.6% in 2018. Strong economic outlook for ASEAN is also expected with 4.8% GDP growth in 2017 and 5.0% in 2018. The Philippines continues to lead the region with an expected GDP growth rate at 6.8% this 2017.

As global trade growth steadily rebounds from a post-crisis low in 2016, the HLTF-EI discussed the importance of improving the overall trade environment in ASEAN through better institutions and well-designed trade and regulatory policies, particularly by mainstreaming of Good Regulatory Practice (GRP) and addressing the issue of non-tariff measures (NTMs). The HLTF-EI further underscored that NTMs have different regulatory objectives, which often become too extensive and complex that they act as barriers to trade. In order to address this, enhancing transparency was thereby recommended to the Ministers, as well as compliance to ASEAN agreements on notification, effective usage of existing ASEAN tools, private sector engagement, and regional cooperation on developing clearer guidelines to identify and eliminate such trade barrier effect.

“For the Philippines, priority is in pushing for an ASEAN that is driven by inclusiveness and innovation,” PH HLTF-EI Lead DTI Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo highlighted. “Inclusive, Innovation-Led Growth,” AEC’s thematic priority for 2017, sets the tone for the Philippines’ agenda on increasing trade and investments, integrating MSMEs in the Global Value Chains (GVCs), and developing an innovation-driven economy.

The meeting also tackled updates on the Grand Celebration of ASEAN’s 50th Anniversary on 08 August, as well as other commemorative activities lined up for the remaining months of 2017 to celebrate the region’s Golden Jubilee.

The recommendations of 32nd HLTF-EI Meeting will be submitted for consideration and further discussion at the 49th Meeting of the ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM), which will chaired by DTI Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, on 4 – 10 September 2017 in Manila, Philippines.