ASEAN countries call for temperance in trade restrictive measures amid COVID-19; to review FTA arrangements

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India's Coal Minister Piyush Goyal briefing the media in New Delhi on February 20, 2018.

Economic and trade ministers of 18 countries, including India, the US, and China, at the East Asia Summit agreed that trade restrictive measures taken to address the impact of coronavirus pandemic must be transparent and temporary, according to a statement.

The ministers also emphasised that trade measures in view of COVID-19 should not create unnecessary barriers or disruptions in the global and regional supply chains, said the statement released after the eighth East Asia Summit Economic Ministers’ Meeting (EAS-EMM) held online.

Economic ministers from 10 ASEAN-member countries, Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the US took part in the meeting.

The ASEAN countries also recommended member countries to start discussions for determining the scope of review of free trade agreements (FTA) at the earliest with a view to make the pact more user-friendly, simple, and trade facilitative for businesses.

According to the joint statement, the ministers recognised the importance of facilitating essential movement of people across borders, without undermining each country’s efforts to prevent the spread of the virus, to stabilise the trade and investment.

“The ministers agreed that any trade restrictive emergency measures put in place to address the impact of COVID-19 must be targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary, consistent with WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules and do not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption of global and regional supply chains,” it said.

“The ministers reiterated their support for the necessary reform of the WTO. The ministers will continue to work together to realize a free, fair, transparent, non-discriminatory, predictable, and stable trade environment, and affirmed the importance of agreed upon rules in the WTO, which can enhance market predictability and business confidence,” it added.

India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal who attended the meet stated that the review of FTA in goods has been “inordinately delayed”, and requested to start the full review before the end of this year. “The ministers from India and ASEAN countries instructed the senior officials to start the discussions to determine the scope of the review at the earliest to, inter-alia, make the free trade agreement more user-friendly, simple, and trade facilitative for businesses,” the statement said.

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