ASEAN to speed up free trade, investment plans
HANOI, Dec. 8 Kyodo
Senior officials of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed Tuesday to expand regional trade and investment liberalization initiatives as a way to restore economic dynamism to the crisis-shaken region. They agreed to cut tariff rates on products representing at least 90% of total trade in the region to 5% or less by 2000, ASEAN sources said. Under the current plan, products accounting for some 88% of total ASEAN trade would be subject to tariff rates at 5% or less by 2000. The senior officials will propose that ASEAN leaders mention in a declaration to be issued at their summit in Hanoi next week this commitment to reduce tariffs under a plan to create an ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) by 2003. The agreement to cut tariffs on 90% of trade by 2000 ”will be put under the Hanoi declaration,” an ASEAN economic official said at the end of the first day of a two-day meeting of ASEAN senior officials. The senior officials are preparing for a gathering of ASEAN foreign and economic ministers, followed by the leaders’ summit in the days ahead. ”We can be sure that steps will be taken to hasten AFTA,” Rodolfo Severino, secretary general of the Jakarta-based ASEAN Secretariat said, adding that the economic crisis has made economic integration more imperative for ASEAN. ASEAN members agreed in 1992 to create AFTA through tariff cuts under the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) scheme with the target of 0 to 5% tariffs by 2008. The date has since been brought forward to 2003. ”For foreign investors we have a bold package of benefits,” an ASEAN official said. ”We want to accelerate the flow of investments into ASEAN because this will help the recovery process.” ASEAN countries are also trying to expedite the full implementation of the ASEAN Investment Area (AIA) from 2010 for intra-ASEAN investment, ASEAN sources said. ASEAN economic ministers signed a framework agreement in October last year for the establishment of AIA by 2010 for intra-ASEAN investment. Officials said ASEAN plans to give temporary benefits to foreign investors to liberalize foreign investment in manufacturing, possibly between January next year and December 2000. Severino said leaders are also expected to push a proposal to grant treatment equal to that of domestic investors, for a temporary period, to foreign investors ”because of the emergency nature of the current problem.” ”The rules will be loosened considerably,” he said. ASEAN hopes to boost foreign direct investment into the region. Such investment declined 12.5% last year compared with 1996 and 33.6% in the first quarter of 1998 from year-earlier levels.
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