Time to hit the AEC accelerator

Saturday 13th October 2012 | The Nation | Link

Thailand needs a central command centre to integrate its strategy ahead of the Asean Economic Community's launch in 2015, says Andrew Durieux of the Thai Foreign Chamber of Commerce

Andrew Durieux, chairman of the AEC Committee at the Joint Foreign Chamber of Commerce in Thailand (JFCCT), is urging the government to speed up preparations for the Asean Economic Community's (AEC) launch in 2015.

"From our point of view, it's fair to say that there are serious delays in some areas. The AEC covers five areas, free flow of goods, free flow of capital, free flow of labour, investment, and services.

"In the area of goods, Thailand has done a lot of good work along with other Asean countries as most import tariffs have been lowered to zero. However, in other areas, particularly skilled labour and services, Thailand is well behind the schedule in the published blueprint [which states that] existing agreements are not meant to be implemented in 2015, but that all measures are supposed to be effective in 2015.

"Regarding the services sector, Thailand is supposed to liberalise this sector under the AEC framework, with foreign ownership allowed to rise from a maximum 51 per cent up to 70 per cent in all services sectors.

"This will apply to only Asean citizens and Asean companies, whose definitions are not yet clear. We want to know the rules between now and 2015 so that our members can plan ahead.

"We need to know the definitions before we can plan our operations for the next several years - five, 10 or 20 years. Logistics and tourism are among the services that will be affected in terms of foreign ownership in the AEC framework.

"On skilled labour, we have just implemented the first Mutual Recognition Agreement, earlier this year, covering seven professions: doctors, dentists, nurses, accountants, architects, engineers and surveyors. The problem is that in Thailand there has been no change to the labour law to support such a move.

"For example, an engineer needs to be registered in Thailand for at least five years. Then, he or she needs to register with an international or Asean engineering body before he or she can take advantage of the free flow of skilled labour in the AEC.

"This means no Thai engineers or doctors or nurses, etc, can benefit from the AEC in 2015. Medical tourism is an area in which Thailand can benefit from a free flow of skilled labour like doctors and nurses, but Thai hospitals are running out of these professional workers and Thailand cannot get them in from other countries.

"We want to ask the Thai government to start clarifying the definitions of Asean citizens and companies and provide some certainty. We also need a centralised focus group on that.

"Today, we have the Commerce Ministry's Department of Trade Negotiations doing a great job, but it doesn't have the authority to make changes in other areas under the jurisdiction of other ministries.

"A single command for AEC will be great for planning, mapping out strategies, and handling procedures for Thai businesses to get them ready to take advantage of the AEC.

"From the business community's point of view, there are still mixed messages from the government and even some misinterpretations. We also want to propose a single visa for Asean covering all 10 member countries, similar to the European single visa system.

"Suvarnabhumi Airport and Bangkok can be a central location for Asean. A single stock market for Asean equities is another option," he says.