ASEAN economic ministers have agreed to refrain from introducing trade restrictive measures on essential goods associated with combatting the global pandemic to ensure smooth flow of these items across borders.

RAMON LOPEZ BLOOMBERG PHOTO 1024x683 - ASEAN ministers sign MOU to address non-tariff measures
Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez (Bloomberg file photo)

 Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez joined other ASEAN economic ministers in signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to address the implementation of Non-Tariff Measures (NTM) 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 at the sidelines of the 19th

 ASEAN Economic Community Council Meeting held recently in Hanoi.

The  initiative stemmed from a decision made by ASEAN Economic Ministers last August 2020 to put in place a more focused and targeted work program to address NTMs, particularly on essential goods.  

“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 seeks to facilitate timely information sharing among Member States on trade-related measures on these essential goods and supplies. 

It further calls on the ASEAN Member States (AMS) 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 (WTO) Agreement and the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA). 

Currently, the provisions of the MOU only apply to the ASEAN List of Essential Goods, which currently cover 152 tariff lines of medicines, and medical supplies and equipment. 

This 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 (ACRF), which serves as the consolidated exit strategy of the region from the COVID-19 crisis. It articulates the ASEAN response through different stages of recovery. It focuses 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. 

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