Asean committed to narrowing development gap

Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti) Secretary General Datuk Lokman Hakim (left) with Thailand's Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-cha in Bangkok September 6, 2019. — Bernama
Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti) Secretary General Datuk Lokman Hakim (left) with Thailand's Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-cha in Bangkok September 6, 2019. — Bernama

BANGKOK, Sept 8 — Asean member countries have reaffirmed their commitment to narrow the development gap within the economic bloc in the pursuit of shared prosperity and an inclusive economic community.

In a joint statement in conjunction with the 51st Asean Economic Ministers’ (AEM) Meeting in Bangkok, the ministers welcomed the continued assistance from Asean member states, its partners and external parties to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV) to enhance their capacity to meet regional commitments and promote inclusive development.

The ministers also lauded the economic progress in CLMV in the past 20 years, as noted in the “Assessment of the Progress in Narrowing the Development Gap in Asean” report by the Asean Secretariat in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank.

“The sustained growth in income levels has contributed to the considerable progress achieved by CLMV in the area of social development, notably in terms of poverty reduction,” it said.

According to the statement, the ministers noted the favourable growth of CLMV’s trade and investments, stating that CLMV’s merchandise trade continued to be on an upward trend, not only in terms of value, but also in percentage of Asean’s total trade.

Preliminary data for 2018 indicated that CLMV’s total merchandise trade amounted to US$541.5 billion (RM2.26 trillion), equivalent to 19.3 per cent of Asean’s total merchandise trade.

Foreign direct investments (FDIs) into CLMV grew by 4.2 per cent last year to US$23.5 billion from US$22.5 billion in 2017.

CLMV’s contribution to Asean’s total FDIs slightly decreased to 15.2 per cent in 2018 from 15.3 per cent in 2017.

On the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the ministers reaffirmed it as Asean’s highest priority and committed to conclude the negotiations this year, in line with the leaders’ mandate.

“The ministers emphasised the importance of achieving the target amidst current global uncertainties, and expressed confidence that once concluded, the RCEP will significantly contribute to an open, inclusive, rule-based international trading system and to the development and expansion of value chains in the region,” it said.

On trade in goods, the ministers welcome the steady progress made by Asean member states on the tariff liberation under the Asean Trade in Goods Agreement (Atiga).

To date, it said 99.3 per cent of import duties have been eliminated in the Asean-6 (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) and 97.7 per cent in CLMV.

“Collectively, Asean on the whole has eliminated 98.6 per cent of import duties this year,” it said.

Meanwhile, the joint statement said the completion of the Asean Protocol on Enhanced Dispute Settlement Mechanism would provide Asean member states with a reliable and effective dispute settlement mechanism.

“The conclusion of the protocol, which will replace the 2004 Asean Protocol on Enhanced Dispute Settlement Mechanism, is an important achievement in Asean’s effort towards a rule-based community,” it added. — Bernama