CARI Briefings: Leveraging ASEAN solutions for trade through ASSIST – The EU’s support under the ARISE Plus Programme
Paolo R. Vergano
Trade Facilitation Expert, ARISE Plus Project of ASEAN Regional Integration Support by the EU
Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid
Chairman, CIMB ASEAN Research Institute President, ASEAN Business Club
He has an extensive experience and is well known in the Malaysian corporate world. He had been the Group Editor of the New Straits Times, first executive chairman of CIMB and founding chairman of the Malaysian Securities Commission. After stepping down from the Securities Commission, he became Independent Non-Executive Director of Telekom Malaysia Berhad, Chairman of Celcom (Malaysia) Berhad and Non-Executive Chairman of Malaysian Airline System Berhad. He was Founder President of the Kuala Lumpur Business Club, established in 2003 and is a member of the Court of Fellows of the Malaysian Institute of Management.
Tan Sri Dr. Munir obtained a B.Sc (Econ) and Ph.D in International Relations from the London School of Economic and Political Science (LSE) in 1971 and 1978. He is an Honorary Fellow of LSE and continues the long association with his alma mater as Visiting Senior Fellow at the Centre of International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy. Tan Sri Dr. Munir is an associate of Southeast Asia Centre (SEAC) at LSE.
The first CARI Briefing of 2019 was presented by Trade Facilitation Key Expert for ASEAN Regional Integration Support by the EU (ARISE) Plus Paolo R. Vergano, where he expanded upon the benefits of the ASEAN Solutions for Investments, Services and Trade (ASSIST) platform.
Titled ‘Leveraging ASEAN solutions for trade through ASSIST: The EU’s support under the ARISE Plus Programme’, during the briefing Paolo argued that the platform is the best mechanism for ASEAN-based entities to address any issues they may face with regards to cross border intra-ASEAN trade in goods and services, and in furthering the economic integration of the region as laid down in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) agenda of 2015, particularly through the promotion of regulatory transparency.
Key features of ASSIST
- ASSIST is meant to be an easy to use, cost-free Internet-based platform meant to deal with issues pertaining to the cross-border trade in goods, services, and investments, although as of now it is only dealing with goods (it will be expanded to services in May 2019).
- It can only be utilized by entities registered in any of the ten ASEAN Member States (AMS), and it can only be used for intra-ASEAN or cross-border trade issues.
- Anonymity One of the new features of ASSIST is the ability for firms to file cases anonymously. Thus, firms who may be afraid of retaliation if they lodge a complaint with a third-party government can now file cases using a representative entity or a law firm (the latter must be registered in ASEAN). A representative entity can include chambers of commerce, trade associations, business federations, or business councils. As Vergano explained, business who may be afraid of being exposed could have their trade associations file a case on the behalf of multiple entities in the same industry holding the same grievance.
- ASSIST is a non-binding and consultative mechanism. It is not a judicial or adjudication system. It merely provides a channel for the private sector to allay their problems to the governments, who can then provide a possible solution. It is meant to provide transparency in the system, and allow governments to explain certain regulations and why they are not discriminatory. As he pointed out, not every case filed on ASSIST has to be a ‘negative, confrontational discussion’, as companies can also use the portal to clear up misunderstandings with the authorities.
- AE: ASEAN-based Enterprise that raises an issue/query/complaint through ASSIST. Anonymity can be preserved by lodging cases through trade associations, chambers of commerce, business councils/federations, lawyers or law firms. New anonymity features have been developed, allowing anonymous complaints to be filed on behalf of AEs by these representative entities. Special rules apply for ASEAN-registered lawyers or law firms.
- CA: Central Administrator of ASSIST, responsible for checking the completeness of the complaint submitted by the AE, for verifying the standing of the complaining AE, for forwarding the application to both the Home Contact Point (HCP) and the Destination Contact Point (DCP), for monitoring progress in accordance with the agreed deadlines, and for reporting the response/resolution back to the AE. The CA is also charged with the maintenance of the integrity of the ASSIST portal.
- The ASEAN Secretariat (ASEC) acts as the CA. ASSIST is run by ASEC’s TFD for Trade in Goods and by ASEC’s SID for Trade in Services.
- HCP: Home Contact Point, which is the national body in the ASEAN Member State of the AE that is notified of the query/complaint by the CA.
- DCP: Destination Contact Point, which is the national body in the ASEAN Member State where the issue is raised and that is responsible for accepting (or rejecting) the issue and then coordinating the resolution/response by the relevant responsible authority(ies) (RAs).
- RA(s): Responsible Authority(ies) in the country of the DCP that will investigate the issue/complaint and provide a solution, if possible.
- Applicants will need to register and receive a password-protected log-in;
- Standardised online application forms have been developed for use;
- A computer-generated tracking code is assigned, with CA/HCP notified;
- CA will assess the complainant’s ‘standing’ and complaint’s completeness;
- CA may request the complainant to provide additional information or clarifications;
- CA will inform AE and submit complaint to DCP/HCP, if there is ‘standing’;
- Maximum time limit is set for DCP to accept/reject complaint;
- Rejections of complaints must be motivated with a reason;
- If accepted, DCP will involve RA(s) and fixed time limits will apply;
- RAs/DCP may request a single time extension if the issue is complex;
- RAs/DCP must provide a response/resolution/remedy in written form;
- CA will follow-up. If DCP/RAs unresponsive, issue will be referred to AMSs;
- DCP will provide solution to CA or advise why the case is not solvable;
- CA will register the solution on ASSIST and send it to the AE and the HCP;
- The AE (or its representative entity) will notify the CA if it considers the issue satisfactorily addressed (i.e., resolved/settled);
- If not satisfied, the AE may advise the CA on its intended course of action;
- A ‘traffic light’ dashboard will be available on ASSIST to show progress of each complaint (Green: on schedule; Yellow: warning; Red: delayed);
- A ‘public forum’ section of the ASSIST portal will in the future provide data/statistics on complaints, operational guidelines, success stories of resolved cases, feedback from users/AEs, and tips on using ASSIST;
- A FAQ page is available on the website. User Manual for CA/HCPs/DCPs;
- No confidential information will be placed on the public forum.
Mr. Vergano argues that the ARISE-Plus program is ultimately based on the premise of promoting transparency, so that the private sector is aware of the regulatory environment and what their rights are and where they can challenge governments if they feel said rights have been violated.
Besides the ASSIST, he references another instrument promoted by ARISE-Plus called the ASEAN Trade Repository (ATR), which is to make transparent all rules, norms, regulations and procedures which impact regional trade through a single platform in a standardized form. The benefit of ASSIST, he said, is to provide a link to the ATR for ASEAN-based businesses.
Vergano points out that the ATR is continuously aggregating information from each country’s National Trade Repositories for the benefit of locally based entities. However, he adds that the pace of uploading information to the ATR has been ‘pitiful’, and that it is incumbent on the private sector to pressure their governments to do more as promised in the ATIGA agreement.
For full presentation, please click here.