PASAY CITY—As the Philippine hosting of the 49th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ (AEM) Meeting and Related Meetings formally opens (7 September), top ASEAN economic officials are expected to deliberate on the region’s continuing efforts to further strengthen, deepen, and widen regional economic integration initiatives, as well as to discuss strategic trade and economic relations with ASEAN’s trading partners.

49th ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting
The Philippine hosting of the 49th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting and Related Meetings formally opened on 7 September with the presence of top economic officials from all 10 ASEAN Member States, as chaired by DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez. The ministerial meeting will run until 11 September.

The Meetings to be convened from 7 to 11 September include the 31st ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) Council Meeting, 20th ASEAN Investment Area (AIA) Council Meeting, AEM Consultations with Dialogue Partners (Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Russia, United States, Plus Three, and the East Asia Summit), and the 5th Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Ministerial Meeting, among others.

“With the shared vision and collective will to promote an integrated, peaceful and stable community, we have progressed as a regional bloc utilizing a successful model of economic integration and cooperation under the framework of one ASEAN Economic Community (AEC),” said Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary and 2017 AEM Chair Ramon Lopez.

Realizing an ASEAN Economic Community

In a bid to strengthen AEC with the 2025 vision, the 49th AEM Meeting aims to shepherd in policy initiatives and outward-oriented programs that will enable the region to realize high economic growth, increased trade and investments, and job generation.

The AEM-adopted Consolidated Strategic Action Plan (CSAP) in February 2017 in Manila bolsters the ongoing community-building process of the region, serving as the operational framework for the AEC Blueprint 2025. Among the top priorities of the AEC include trade in goods and trade facilitation, trade in services, and investment to contribute to the overall regional economic growth.

At the heart of the 49th AEM Meeting is the resolve among ASEAN Member States to create a more enabling environment for businesses, both big and small, to prosper and ensure equitable development across all sectors and peoples of ASEAN. The Meeting will also reaffirm ASEAN’s commitment to open regionalism and the AEC 2025 agenda, notwithstanding the uncertainties surrounding global economic recovery, the rising trends of protectionism, and shifts in global policies.

Following the agreement of the Ministers in March 2017 to reduce transaction cost by 10% in 2020, and with the target to double intra-ASEAN trade by 2025, ASEAN has already laid down the necessary infrastructure to operationalize its targets.

The 31st AFTA Council Meeting will address the elimination of non-tariff barriers and non-tariff measures to trade, the operationalization of the ASEAN Single Window, as well as the adoption of the ASEAN Trade Facilitation Strategic Action Plan 2017-2025, which will facilitate trade across borders, boost competitiveness, and spur commercial activities.

Substantial progress has also been made in the investment component in support of the ASEAN Blueprint 2025. The 20th AIA Council Meeting targets to open and make the region more attractive for investments through the near completion of the signing of the Second Protocol to Amend the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA) and the finalization of the Third Protocol to Amend the ACIA.

Consultations with Dialogue Partners

The 49th AEM Meeting and Related Meetings also reaffirms the region’s commitment towards an open and outward-oriented trade bloc.

AEM will engage in Consultations to boost trade and investment relations with dialogue partners and existing ASEAN+1 Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) forged individually with the Closer Economic Relations or CER (Australia and New Zealand), China, India, Japan and Korea. AEM will also meet counterparts from Canada, Russia, Hong Kong and United States to further strengthen economic and technical cooperation initiatives.

The 5th RCEP Ministerial Meeting will meanwhile, provide strategic direction on the way forward towards the conclusion of the negotiations between the ten ASEAN Member States (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam) and its FTA partners (Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand) that will form part of the mega-regional FTA. Ministers are meeting at a critical phase of the negotiations as the year inches towards the deadline set forth by the Leaders to conclude the negotiations for the 16-party trade agreement.

“RCEP has tremendous opportunity to re-energize global free trade and open markets. A such, all eyes are on RCEP and how it will delicately balance meaningful outcomes that benefit all parties while addressing the sensitivities and circumstances of our economies, especially on market access and rules-based regime,” said Sec. Lopez.

Due to ASEAN’s dynamism and growth prospects, it has emerged as an attractive and strategic FTA partner. Canada and Russia have approached ASEAN for possible FTAs and the resumption of the ASEAN-EU FTA negotiation is being studied.

PH Economic Priority Deliverables

Ministers are also set to approve and welcome the implementation of the Philippines’ economic priority deliverables for consideration and adoption of the Leaders at the 31st ASEAN Summit.

Among these deliverables include the implementation progress of the Focused and Strategic (FAST) Action Agenda on Investment, with a business matching activity “Linking ASEAN MSMEs with Global and ASEAN MNEs” scheduled to take place on 19 October. The target to substantially conclude the ASEAN Trade in Services Agreement (ATISA) by end 2017 will be reported to the Leaders in November.

With the adoption of the ASEAN Seamless Trade Facilitation Indicators (ASTFI), it will be the first time for ASEAN to proactively study what ASEAN has achieved and set benchmarks and targets moving towards 2025. For a more systematic and robust method for AEC compliance monitoring, the Philippines will undergo the first and comprehensive Country Visit aimed to ensure transparency and consistency of the country’s implementation of its commitments under the AEC.

Ministers will also endorse the ASEAN Inclusive Business (IB) Framework to strengthen enabling policy environments for IB in ASEAN Member States, agree to submit the Action Agenda on Mainstreaming Women Economic Empowerment (WEE) in AEC, adopt the ASEAN Work Programme on Electronic Commerce 2017-2025, and support the adoption of the ASEAN Declaration on Innovation by the ASEAN Science and Technology Ministers.

“The near completion of our economic priority deliverables shows our strong commitment towards ensuring that the AEC is fair, workable, rational, and inclusive for all,” Sec. Lopez concluded. END