Asean economic ministers collaborate in efforts against pandemic

The partnership will also be taking advantage of the global advancement towards a digital economy, Mohamed Azmin says

by LYDIA NATHAN / Pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

THE Asean economic ministers (AEM) has renewed regional economic diplomacy while committing to intensify global efforts to ensure vibrant growth and resilient recovery against the Covid-19 pandemic.

International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali (picture) said the commitment was made at the Asean annual consultations with dialogue partners, East Asia Summit member countries as well as various business councils held between Sept 13 and Sept 15, 2021.

The dialogue partners included China, Korea, Switzerland, the US, Hong Kong, India, the European Union (EU), Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the UK.

Mohamed Azmin said Malaysia’s efforts towards the reopening of the economy through the National Recovery Plan’s vigorous vaccination drive, with the full vaccination of the nation’s adult population slated for next month was highlighted during the discussion.

“We also reprised commitments to keep markets open and ensure the continued, smooth and sustainable flow of essential goods and services as well as supply chain, while making certain that Asean Centrality remains at the forefront,” he said in a statement last Friday.

According to Mohamed Azmin, the discussion also stressed the importance of taking advantage of the global advancement towards a digital economy.

“I underscored the paramount importance of closing the digital gap for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the region.

“The ministers and dialogue partners also agreed on the need to assist MSMEs in the areas of digital access and financing, to inject economic resilience among businesses in the region, building on the synergies of the Bandar Seri Begawan Roadmap: An Asean Digital Transformation Agenda to Accelerate Asean’s Economic Recovery and Digital Economy Integration,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the agenda for regional economic integration, he said several Asean Plus One Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) which are currently undergoing upgrade processes were discussed.

Mohamed Azmin said for the Asean-Australia-New Zealand FTA, the need to ensure it remains an ambitious and modern agreement was the key message from the ministers.

“The meeting also agreed to conduct a joint feasibility study to review the Asean-China FTA Upgrading Protocol and welcomed the concept note for a joint review study to enhance the Asean-Korea FTA.

“As for the impending review of the Asean-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA), the Asean and Indian ministers unanimously agreed that we will put in our best efforts in the scoping discussions for the review to be concluded within the earliest time possible.

“Malaysia, as the country coordinator for Asean-India economic dialogue, is leading the AITIGA consultations,” he noted.

The AEMs also welcomed the EU trade commissioner to the consultations, after a gap of two years, where the continuous support from the EU to the Asean economic community through various programmes and initiatives were acknowledged.

Additionally, the AEMs welcomed the UK’s conferment and pledged to continue to work together through the Asean-UK Economic Reform Programme and the Asean-UK Joint Ministerial Declaration on Future Economic Cooperation.

“Malaysia, together with Asean, is committed to redoubling its efforts with Asean’s dialogue partners towards collaborating and supporting the various plans and initiatives to reinvigorate and resuscitate Asean as well as the region’s economies going forward, ensuring regional prosperity and sustainability,” Mohamed Azmin concluded.