The economic ministers of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations signed a memorandum of understanding on the implementation of non-tariff measures on essential goods under the Ha Noi Plan of Action on Strengthening ASEAN Economic Cooperation and Supply Chain Connectivity in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The ministers signed the MOU at the sidelines of the 19th ASEAN Economic Community Council Meeting on Nov. 10, 2020, according to Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.
“This action is a clear manifestation of ASEAN’s shared commitment in keeping markets open, ensure the unhampered flow of essential goods, and show economic resiliency amid COVID-19. We also see this as a positive development that will help the Philippine business community in trading with the region,” Lopez said.
The MOU is part of ASEAN’s concrete initiatives in response to COVID-19 to ensure the smooth flow of essential goods associated with combating the pandemic. It also sought to facilitate timely information sharing among Member States on trade-related measures on these essential goods and supplies.
It also called on the ASEAN member states to refrain from introducing or maintaining trade restrictive measures on essential goods, except for instances wherein there is a public health emergency. Any measure that one AMS deems necessary to implement must be in conformity with AMS rights and obligations under the World Trade Organization Agreement and the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement.
The provisions of the MOU only apply to the ASEAN List of Essential Goods, which covers 152 tariff lines of medicines, medical supplies and equipment.
Lopez said the MOU is a significant step forward for ASEAN as some member states implemented export bans and other stringent measures in the early months of the pandemic that resulted to supply shortages of medicines and medical supplies in the region. With the MOU in place, such actions are expected to be lessened.
Recognizing the importance of addressing NTMs across all sectors, ASEAN will also be looking into the possible expansion of the ASEAN List of Essential Goods to include other essential items, such as food and agricultural products.
The MOU forms part of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework which serves as the consolidated exit strategy of the region from the COVID-19 crisis. It successfully articulated the ASEAN response through different stages of recovery as it also focused on key sectors and segments of society that are most affected by the pandemic, as well as sets broad strategies and identifies measures for recovery in line with sectoral and regional priorities.