Rattled but undeterred

Danial Norjidi

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, ASEAN continued to make progress in the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint 2025, according to the 8th issue of the ASEAN Economic Integration Brief (AEIB).

The AEIB is produced by the ASEAN Integration Monitoring Directorate of the ASEAN Secretariat, and its contents include AEC updates.

With regard to the AEC updates, the report noted that, themed ‘Cohesive and Responsive’, Vietnam’s chairmanship in 2020 focusses on 13 Priority Economic Deliverables (PEDs) across three strategic thrusts: promoting intra-ASEAN economic integration and connectivity; deepening ASEAN engagement with the global community for peace and sustainable development; and enhancing the responsiveness and institutional capacity of ASEAN.

Touching on promoting intra-ASEAN economic integration and connectivity, it was shared that ASEAN adopted the ASEAN Digital Integration Index (ADII) in August 2020, a tool for assessing the effectiveness of the implementation of the ASEAN Digital Integration Framework (DIF).

To support ASEAN’s energy transition towards sustainable development, the ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation Phase 2 (2021-2025) and the 6th ASEAN Energy Outlook were completed in November 2020.

To support the formation of an ASEAN statistical information system on sustainable development, the ASEAN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Indicators Baseline Report 2020 and the Online Database for ASEAN SDG Indicators were launched in October 2020.

With regards to deepening ASEAN engagement with the global community, the report highlighted that ASEAN signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement on November 15, on the sidelines of the 4th RCEP Summit, noting that the RCEP with membership of 15 countries is now the largest trading bloc in the globe.

For the third strategic thrust of enhancing the responsiveness and institutional capacity of ASEAN, the AEIB stated that the Preliminary Mid-Term Review (MTR) Report of the AEC Blueprint 2025 was completed and submitted to the AEC Council in November 2020. The final MTR Report, both internal and public versions, will be completed in the first quarter of 2021.

“ASEAN undertook initiatives to promote sustainable financing in the region, including completion of the Report on Promoting Sustainable Finance in ASEAN, finalisation of the recommendations under the Roadmap to ASEAN Sustainable Capital Market, and the Report on the Roles of ASEAN Central Banks in Managing Climate and Environment-related Risks, last October,” the report stated.

ASEAN also endorsed the Terms of Reference for the ASEAN Network of Innovation Centres in August 2020. The network will serve as a mechanism to promote collaboration among innovation centres in ASEAN, and foster the growth of start-ups and innovation ecosystems in the region.

Additionally, the Framework and Strategic Action Plan on ASEAN Food Security (2021-2025) was adopted in October 2020.

“Other deliverables are expected to be completed within this year, particularly the Roadmap and Action Plan to promote smart manufacturing development in ASEAN and the Roadmap on Combating IUU Fishing in the ASEAN Region (2020-2025). Meanwhile, the Lowering International Mobile Roaming Charges (IMR) in ASEAN has been agreed to be a multi-year project.”

In addition to the PEDs, progress across other initiatives was also achieved in 2020. “On customs, the key achievements include the operationalisation of the ASEAN-Wide Self-Certification (AWSC) Scheme, as well as the operationalisation of the ASEAN Customs Transit System (ACTS) among participating member states.

“On services, the ASEAN Trade in Service Agreement (ATISA) was fully signed by all ASEAN member states in October 2020. ATISA will enter into force within six months from last date of signing.

“On investment, the signing of the Fourth Protocol to Amend the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA) was completed in July 2020. The protocol incorporated WTO Trade-Related Investment Measures plus obligations on Prohibition of Performance Requirements into the ACIA. The e-brochure ‘Investment Opportunities in ASEAN 2021 – Invest in ASEAN: Towards Resilient Growth in the New Normal’ was also released in support of ASEAN recovery efforts to further promote and facilitate investment into the region,” the report stated.

For transport, the Mid-Term Review of the ASEAN Transport Strategic Plan for 2016-2025 has been accomplished and the ASEAN Air Navigation Service Master Plan adopted. In addition, the ASEAN-wide COVID-19 operational guidelines have been developed for the protection and safety of passengers and air crew, as well as cleaning and disinfection of aircraft. Achievements in ICT include the completion of the Final Review of ASEAN ICT Masterplan 2020, while the ASEAN Digital Master Plan 2025 is being finalised.

“On food, agriculture, and forestry, the ASEAN Harmonised Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) for pesticide residue was endorsed in October 2020, as well as the Feasibility Study on the Development of ASEAN General Fisheries Policy (AGFP) and the revision of ASEAN Criteria and Indicators for Legality of Timber.

“On tourism, the development of ASEAN Tourism Marketing Strategy Action Plans 2021-2025 was completed in September 2020 and the Declaration on ASEAN Digital Tourism was adopted in November 2020,” it said.

In the area of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), achievements include completion of the Regional Guidelines for Inclusive Business in August 2020 and the endorsement of the ASEAN Guidelines on Fostering a Vibrant Ecosystem for Startups across Southeast Asia in October 2020.

On global ASEAN, the report stated that the next steps to implement the remaining elements in the Future Work Programme under ASEAN-China CFTA Upgrading Protocol and the recommendations on the way forward for a possible ASEAN-Canada FTA have been agreed upon.