EU-ABC sends proposal to Asean Economic Ministers

KUALA LUMPUR: The EU-Asean Business Council (EU-ABC) has put forward its recommendations to Asean Economic Ministers, saying more can be done to improve the commercial, trade and investment environment between the two regions.

Executive director Chris Humphrey said that while steady growth was prevalent between Europe and Asean, with over 11,000 European businesses having presence in the region, it was important to look into intra-Asean trade issues for better integration.

“We hope to see more regional integration in Asean and so the proposals to the economic ministers would further promote trade, investment and competitiveness within the region,” said Humphrey after launching the EU-ABC’s agenda for the forthcoming Asean-EU Business Summit in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

The annual business summit to be held on Aug 23 in Kuala Lumpur will coincide with the 47th Asean Economic Ministers’ Meeting.

He said that 12 proposals were submitted with key areas covering tariffs, investment, competitiveness and continued dialogue.

“We hope to phase out and eventually eliminate tariffs. This means easing customs procedures in Asean, which will boost intra-Asean trade and help local small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as this seems to be the key focus for the economic ministers.

“We are also looking into forming a working committee with the other counterparts to tackle issues relating to non-tariff barriers and identify problems as part of the AEC,” said Humphrey.

In terms of investment, he said it was pertinent to have more mutual recognition or alignment in standards and regulations in various business and industry sectors, not only to help ease intra-regional trade but also to put more traction into the Asean financial integration.

Humphrey acknowledged that there would be stumbling blocks for the proposals to go through, but said as the EU represented the largest single market in the global economy and the world’s largest trader, Asean could learn from them.

“It took Europe 40 years to be a single market and Asean has been doing it for the last eight years so far. So, it will be a working process and the European business want to help with that by bringing the best practices and let Asean learn the lessons from Europe,” he added.

Humphrey said while Asean had huge potential, it had its challenges with issues mainly dealing with financial integration such as cross-border payments and banking system, among others.

“Establishing long-term capital and bond markets, for intance, would help Asean in its longer-term infrastructural development, as the region is going through a great urbanisation process,” he said.

In 2013, EU’s foreign direct investment (FDI) to Asean was US$27bil (RM96.5bil). It is the largest source of FDI inflows to Asean with US$75bil of FDI funds between 2011 and 2013.

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