Business leaders from the U.S. urged Southeast Asia to speed up free-trade reforms, saying its markets remained fragmented with a patchwork of policies and regulations. The U.S.-ASEAN Business Council said on Dec. 9 that while the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had made efforts to ease trade with the region, the lack of common standards was putting off would-be partners.
"There are countries in ASEAN that inspect virtually everything that comes in and out," said the president of the council, Matthew Daley, adding that global practice was to have more targeted inspections.
"Differential tariff rates can be a problem, having different standards, either different customs standards or different product descriptions can be an impediment to moving things forward," said Daley, whose organization represents 130 U.S. companies with interests in Southeast Asia. A lack of transparency in national policies and varying degrees of corruption also acted as a deterrent, he said.
Southeast Asia has launched its own free-trade area and is gradually reducing tariffs in a range of sectors, while negotiations for trade agreements are under way with China, Japan and India. But Daley said that with foreign businesses still seeing ASEAN as a collection of separate markets, an East Asia trade grouping was an even more distant prospect. "As an American businessman looks at the region, he or she will see a lot of very different economies with different rules and regulations," he said. "There is no economic bloc yet or remotely close to East Asia."
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2005