SOUTH-EAST Asia is awash with non-tariff measures (NTMs) involving product standards, which one analyst said raise the cost of doing business.
These measures could also be used in trade protectionism, said University of Malaya professor Evelyn S. Devadason, warning of obstacles such as delays, informal payments, and a lack of proper testing and storage sites.
With standard-like NTMs including sanitary and phytosanitary measures, as well as technical barriers to trade, Prof Evelyn urged policymakers to put these NTMs on the planning agenda.
Otherwise, the measures “are qualitative, heterogeneous across products and countries, opaque (less visible), difficult to monitor and have an unclear impact”, she wrote in a white paper while a visiting senior fellow at Singapore’s Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute think-tank.
Of the 9,500 public NTMs in force in the region in mid-2019, most dealt with imports, rather than exports.
More than one-third were from Thailand, followed by the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, Prof Evelyn noted. The bulk of NTMs were sanitary standards on goods such as vegetables, prepared foods and livestock, while technical barriers affected chemicals, prepared foods and machinery.
Such standard-like measures - which Prof Evelyn said “are intensively used and generally applied on a multilateral basis” - cover the agri-food industries that have been prioritised for Asean Economic Community integration. Rules on labelling, certification, testing and so forth also entail “compliance with procedures that are evidently regarded as harmful, discriminatory and burdensome”, she wrote.
She added: “Removing those ‘hidden’ barriers in standard-like NTMs and having a coherent regulatory framework that reduces the differences and conflicting standards, will lower the costs of doing business in the region.”