Senate leaders back bid to reduce trade barriers in Asean

Senate leaders signaled support on Monday for enabling legislation to carry out Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s reported bid to cut tariff and nontariff barriers to boost trade and commerce among member-countries of the Asean.

Asked if the Philippine Senate is likely to support at least a 50-percent reduction of the nontariff barriers within Asean, Senate President Aquilino L. Pimentel III promptly backed the proposal, even as he added details of the planned cuts still need to be spelled out.

“Yes. That idea is consistent with the plan to develop one common Asean market,” the Senate President told the BusinessMirror.

Pimentel added, however, senators would also “need to identify those nontariff barriers” in upcoming Senate hearings expected to be called before an enabling bill is submitted for plenary approval.

In a brief interview, Senate Majority Leader Vicente C. Sotto  III added the lawmakers also need to first get a firm Palace position on trade issues before Congress starts the process of enacting a law lifting the tariff and nontariff barriers.

“We should find out what the Executive department has to say before we look into the proposal,” Sotto said. This developed as Najib was reported over the weekend to have recommended the reduction of trade barriers among Asean members.

Najib had suggested in an interview on the sidelines of the 30th Asean Leaders’ Summit the need to adopt a “scorecard approach” to gauge tariff and nontariff gradual reduction schemes.

He also asserted the importance of getting firm commitments from Asean members to “reduce costs and simplify procedures” to facilitate free trade.

The prime minister made the suggestion amid projections that the estimated $2.6-trillion Asean economy is likely to reach $9.2 trillion by 2050, despite remaining barriers that could hamper trade in the region.


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