The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA)
The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) has now been virtually established. ASEAN Member Countries have made significant progress in the lowering of intra-regional tariffs through the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) Scheme for AFTA. More than 99 percent of the products in the CEPT Inclusion List (IL) of ASEAN-6, comprising Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, have been brought down to the 0-5 percent tariff range.
ASEAN’s newer members, namely Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam, are not far behind in the implementation of their CEPT commitments with almost 80 percent of their products having been moved into their respective CEPT ILS. Of these items, about 66 percent already have tariffs within the 0-5 percent tariff band. Viet Nam has until 2006 to bring down tariff of products in the Inclusion List to no more than 5 percent duties, Laos and Myanmar in 2008 and Cambodia in 2010.
Following the signing of the Protocol to Amend the CEPT-AFTA Agreement for the Elimination of Import Duties on 30 January 2003, ASEAN-6 has committed to eliminate tariffs on 60 percent of their products in the IL by the year 2003. As of this date, tariffs on 64.12 percent of the products in the IL of ASEAN-6 have been eliminated. The average tariff for ASEAN-6 under the CEPT Scheme is now down to 1.51 percent from 12.76 percent when the tariff cutting exercise started in 1993.
The implementation of the CEPT-AFTA Scheme was significantly boosted in January 2004 when Malaysia announced its tariff reduction for completely built up (CBUs) and completely knocked down (CKDs) automotive units to gradually meet its CEPT commitment one year earlier than schedule. Malaysia has previously been allowed to defer the transfer of 218 tariff lines of CBUs and CKDs until 1 January 2005.
Products that remain out of the CEPT-AFTA Scheme are those in the Highly Sensitive List (i.e. rice) and the General Exception List. The Coordinating Committee on the Implementation of the CEPTScheme for AFTA (CCCA) is currently undertaking a review of all the General Exception Lists to ensure that only those consistent with Article 9(b)1 of the CEPT Agreement are included in the lists.
ASEAN Member Countries have also resolved to work on the elimination of non-tariff barriers. A work programme on the elimination of non-tariff barriers, which includes, among others, the process of verification and cross-notification; updating the working definition of Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs)/Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) in ASEAN; the setting-up of a database on all NTMs maintained by Member Countries; and the eventual elimination of unnecessary and unjustifiable non-tariff measures, is currently being finalized.
In an effort to improve and strengthen the rules governing the implementation of the CEPT Scheme, to make the Scheme more attractive to regional businessmen and prospective investors, the CEPT Rules of Origin and its Operational Certification Procedures have been revised and implemented since 1 January 2004. Among the features of the revised CEPT Rules of Origin and Operational Certification Procedures include: (a) a standardized method of calculating local/ASEAN content; (b) a set of principles for determining the cost of ASEAN origin and the guidelines for costing methodologies; (c) treatment of locally-procured materials; and (d) improved verification process, including on-site verification.
In order to promote greater utilization of the CEPTAFTA Scheme, substantial transformation has also been adopted as an alternative rule in determining origin for CEPT products. The Task Force on the CEPT Rules of Origin is currently working out substantial transformation rules for certain product sectors, including wheat flour, iron and steel and the 11 priority integration sectors covered under the Bali Concord II. Direction of Trade ASEAN’s exports had regained its upward trend in the two years following the financial crisis of 1997- 1998 reaching its peak in 2000 when total exports was valued at US$ 408 billion. After declining to US$ 366.8 billion in 2001, as a result of the economic slowdown in the United States and Europe and the recession in Japan, ASEAN exports recovered in 2002 when it was valued at US$ 380.2 billion. The upward trend for ASEAN-6 continued up to the first two quarters of 2003. Intra-ASEAN trade for the first two quarters of 2003 registered an increase of 4.2 and 1.6 percent for exports and imports respectively.
Direction of Trade
ASEAN's exports had regained its upward trend in the two years following the financial crisis of 1997-1998 reaching its peak in 2000 when total exports was valued US$ 408 billion. After declining to US$ 366.8 billion in 2001, as a result of the economic slowdon in the United States and Europe and the recession in Japan, ASEAN expots recovered in 2002 when it was valued at US$ 380.2 billion. The upward trend for ASEAN-6 continued up to first two quaters of 2003. Intra-ASEAN trade for the first two quarters of 2003 registered an increase of 4.2 and 1.6 percent for exports and imports respectively.
ASEAN Trade with Selected Trading Partners
The United States, the European Union and Japan continued to be ASEAN’s largest export markets. Japan, followed by the U.S. and EU, were the largest sources of ASEAN imports. During the first half of 2002-2003, ASEAN-6 trade with major markets as a whole increased by 11.71 percent for exports and 6.91 percent for imports. However, ASEAN exports to the U.S. and India and imports from Canada and India declined during the same period.
More information on AFTA can be found at the ASEAN Internet homepage at www.aseansec.org
Regional trade agreements
Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) have become in recent years a very prominent feature of the Multilateral Trading System (MTS).
The surge in RTAs has continued unabated since the early 1990s. Some 380 RTAs have been notified to the GATT/WTO up to July 2007. Of these, 300 RTAs were notified under Article XXIV of the GATT 1947 or GATT 1994; 22 under the Enabling Clause; and 58 under Article V of the GATS. At that same date, 205 agreements were in force.
If we take into account RTAs which are in force but have not been notified, those signed but not yet in force, those currently being negotiated, and those in the proposal stage, we arrive at a figure of close to 400 RTAs which are scheduled to be implemented by 2010. Of these RTAs, free trade agreements (FTAs) and partial scope agreements account for over 90%, while customs unions account for less than 10 %.
More information on RTAs can be found at the WTO Internet homepage at http://www.wto.org
BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation)
On 6 June 1997, a sub-regional grouping was formed in Bangkok and given the name BIST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Cooperation). Myanmar joined the organization as a full member at a Special Ministerial Meeting held in Bangkok on 22 December 1997, upon which the name of the grouping was changed to BIMST-EC.
BIMSTEC provides a unique link between South Asia and Southeast Asia bringing together 1.3 billion people - 21 percent of the world population, a combined GDP of US$750 billion, and a considerable amount of complementarities. A study shows the potential of US$ 43 to 59 billion trade creation under BIMSTEC FTA.
BIMSTEC covers 13 Priority Sectors lead by member countries in a voluntary manner; namely, Trade & Investment, Technology, Energy, Transport & Communication, Tourism, Fisheries, Agriculture, Cultural Co-operation, Environment and Disaster Management, Public Health, People-to-People Contact, Poverty Alleviation and Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crimes