ASEAN eyes release of NTBs inventory

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MANILA — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) aims to release by the end of 2018 its inventory of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) and classifying the types of barriers to trade.

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez told reporters Monday that the 10 member states of ASEAN hope to come up with their NTBs inventory before the end of the year, then move forward in crafting a program to reduce NTBs in the region.

“Hopefully this year, before the end of the year we can come up with that (inventory of NTBs) and gradually have a program, may be in a year or two,” Lopez said at the sidelines of the Malaysia Business Forum in Makati City.

In the Philippines’ hosting of ASEAN 2017, the ASEAN trade ministers during their 23rd ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) Retreat here agreed to cut trade costs in the region by 10 percent in 2020.

The ASEAN Leaders also directed their economic ministers to promote transparency of non-tariff measures (NTMs) and reduction of technical barriers to trade.

Lopez said the AEM currently has a working group setting up the criteria in identifying the types of NTMs in the region.

“In principle, the criterion on NTBs should be justifiable. When it’s for safety, for security concerns, and standard compliance — it’s not barrier per se. We want to ensure there’s product testing for sanitary and phytosanitary tests, those are legitimate. But to be beyond that, for industry protection — why we do that when we are trying to reduce tariff?” said Lopez.

A study by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) noted that not all NTMs are NTBs. While both are policy measures, NTBs are restrictions resulting from conditions that make trading difficult.

“So, you don’t replace tariff with NTBs with the purpose is just for industry protection,” he said.

The DTI chief welcomes this development in the region, noting that the agenda of reducing NTBs has taken off in the ASEAN.

“Before, it has not given importance or priority. It’s important but [we] haven’t seen program on that, but now there is a program. Those will be the steps to be undertaken,” Lopez said.

In his visit last year for the 30th ASEAN Summit, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak pointed out that NTBs and NTMs ballooned from 1,634 in 2000 to 5,975 in 2015.

The same figures from the ERIA-UNCTAD study showed that a big number of NTMs in ASEAN came from Thailand with a total of 1,630 NTMs, followed by the Philippines with 854, Malaysia with 713, Indonesia with 638, Singapore with 529, and Brunei Darussalam with 516.

“Non-tariff barriers and measures — or NTBs and NTMs — must be reduced and ultimately removed. This is a stubborn worldwide problem, but it is in ASEAN’s own interests to lead the way in this endeavor,” the Malaysian Prime Minister said.

Najib said that in order for ASEAN to reach the USD9.2-trillion economic projection by 2030, which will make it the fourth largest economy in the world, ASEAN should cut NTBs and NTMs by 50 percent.

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