Asean trade facilitation instrument for trade in services fully operational

Southeast Asian services operator experiencing problems while operating in one of the Asean member-states can now consider engaging governments directly through a trade facilitation instrument.

This, as the Asean Solutions for Investments, Services and Trade (ASSIST) for trade in services became fully operational starting in May 2019, and ready for use by Asean enterprises.

All Asean member-states’ focal points for ASSIST have been trained with assistance from the European Union under the ARISE, or Asean Regional Integration Support from the EU Plus program, which has an important component on trade facilitation.

ASSIST has been available for Asean enterprises to address problems in relation to trade in goods since August 2016, and has now been extended to issues occurring with respect to intra-Asean cross-border trade in services, according to its web site.

An Internet-based platform and free of charge, https://assist.asean.org/, ASSIST deals with various tariff and nontariff-related measures affecting goods, issues in the area of cross-border services, and measures limiting investment in various sectors of Asean integration.

It, however, does not deal with employee/employer disputes or discrimination claims; matters that are being or have been litigated/arbitrated in national jurisdictions; complaints against individuals or companies; matters not related to intra-Asean trade, services or investment; visa and residence rights; and cross-border movement of capital or payments. The best way for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) filing an ASSIST complaint is to seek guidance and assistance from independent consultants, lawyers, law firms, chambers of commerce, business councils, business federations, trade associations or even academia; or its home government’s opinion and possible support ahead of filing.

It is important to build a thorough and well-proven or well-argued case before lodging a complaint on ASSIST as it will be examined by the relevant authorities involved in trade facilitation instrument.

“The measure or practice being challenged, or the problem being faced by the complainant must be presented clearly, and it is highly recommended that supporting documentation be provided. Complainants may even consider proposing possible solutions to facilitate the process. Comprehensively, presented complaints will have a higher chance of being accepted by the destination country, with the objective of finding a solution,” it said.

Asean enterprises can expect practical solutions to be found through ASSIST in 20 to 50 working days from the date of acceptance of the complaint by the destination contact point.

All solutions must be in full conformity with existing Asean commitments and applicable Asean member states’ laws and regulations. If the Asean enterprise that lodged the complaint, or the representative entity in cases of anonymous complaints, is not satisfied with the outcome, it may refer the case, through its Asean member state of business registration, to the Asean Compliance Body, or to the Asean Enhanced Dispute Settlement Mechanism.

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