SINGAPORE: ASEAN must draw on its shared vision and collective strength to stay resolute in its commitment to regional economic integration, particularly in light of rising anti-globalisation sentiment and protectionism, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran said on Thursday (Oct 5).
In a speech at the 10th ASEAN and Asia forum organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Mr Iswaran emphasised the need for ASEAN to anchor its relevance on the global stage, in order to compete for international trade and investments.
“It will help unlock the potential of our economies, enhance the competitiveness of our enterprises, and create opportunities for our people,” said Mr Iswaran.
“It is therefore imperative that ASEAN not only continues on the present trajectory, but in fact leads the way in charting a path to open trade and active participation in the global economy.”
The forum was attended by 400 business leaders and officials.
Specifically, Mr Iswaran noted that ASEAN will need to step up efforts to tackle non-tariff barriers to facilitate the free flow of goods in the region. ASEAN must also press ahead with liberalisation in services and do more to be in step with the digital economy by ensuring open and easy access to the internet, and supporting the free flow of data.
Externally, ASEAN must continue to forge strong connectivity with key markets, including with its free trade agreement partners (China, Japan, Australia, India and more recently Hong Kong), Mr Iswaran said, as well as its four other dialogue partners (Canada, the European Union, Russia and the United States).
“These efforts to expand ASEAN’s external engagement will secure broader interest from world players in the Asian Economic Community, while consolidating ASEAN’s central position in the evolving global trade architecture,” said Mr Iswaran.
Turning his attention to Singapore, Mr Iswaran said that initiatives to drive the e-commerce sector will be a key focus when it assumes chairmanship of ASEAN next year.
Mr Iswaran said Singapore’s aim is to position ASEAN as a region for seamless economic activity and growing opportunities, especially in the areas of innovation and the digital economy.
Singapore will work with member countries to strengthen digital connectivity and promote e-commerce flows within ASEAN to benefit businesses, especially the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). Mr Iswaran added that more support will also be given to help MSMEs internationalise.
“We will seek to streamline regional trade rules governing e-commerce to support the untrammeled movement of goods and services across the ASEAN region,” said Mr Iswaran.
This includes advancing the ASEAN-wide self-certification regime, which would help reduce transaction costs for exports within the region as well as the ASEAN Single Window, which would speed up customs clearances via the electronic exchange of information across the borders.