As ASEAN continues to make progress toward the goals of the Blueprint 2025, the dream of creating a highly integrated and cohesive economy with enhanced connectivity and sectoral cooperation is potentially at risk. One important source of risk comes from ASEAN’s difficulties in effectively tackling the proliferation of non-tariff barriers to trade. As tariffs have fallen, member states have responded by placing an increasing number of new obstacles in place. Not all trade actions taken by ASEAN member states are an automatic trade barrier. States have legitimate policy objectives to achieve in protecting public health and safety, for example. But it is possible for such actions to cross over and become barriers to trade or for governments to design measures from the beginning to obstruct foreign firms from participating fully in domestic marketplaces. In spite of repeated commitments to eliminate such barriers to trade, ASEAN has struggled to identify non-tariff measures (NTMs) and non-tariff barriers (NTBs), much less assess the impact of these challenges, nor to stop the continued rise in obstacles of all sorts across the region. Failure to effectively address the increase of unjustified, difficult and costly trade issues undermines the progress towards the ASEAN Economic Community’s Blueprint goals and objectives. This report is designed to assist ASEAN members in achieving deeper integration in the region. It examines barriers to trade in three sectors: automotive, agri-food (alcoholic drinks, biscuits and seafood) and healthcare (pharmaceuticals and medical devices). The study complements existing NTM and NTB literature by identifying and assessing specific barriers to trade faced by businesses trading today across the ASEAN region. The results give policymakers a better understanding of the range of company concerns and helps officials devise and implement appropriate strategies to assess and reduce NTBs.
Perhaps the most honest statement in the entire Chairman's Statement is this one: “Most of the recommendations are perpetual in nature and will remain relevant as we continue our integration efforts.” It may be time for ASEAN to simplify the agenda and focus on actually delivering results. In the economic sphere, companies are not going to go on a journey forever without reaching a destination.