Liberalisation in services is fundamental to the realisation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which is planned to be achieved by 2015. ASEAN leaders have taken this firm decision, and services liberalisation and related domestic reforms are to be implemented by then. Hence, the real challenge to achieving the AEC is not one of negotiating trade commitments on “paper” under AFAS, even though this continues with the 8th package under way, but rather ensuring that all ASEAN Member States (AMS) engage in real or “on the ground” liberalisation to remove barriers to services trade in time for the AEC to be in place from 2015.
Liberalisation of services trade will require promoting much greater awareness among stakeholders, including officials and especially the private sector, of its significant wider economic gains to all individual AMS and ASEAN as a whole, adoption of an appropriate regulatory environment, strong institutions, supportive infrastructure, and enhanced policy coordination and coherence, especially in the less developed AMS. Substantial key and effective capacity building throughout AMS across a broad and diverse range of relevant areas is needed to achieve the goal. To be successful, any needs assessment of capacity constraints must be approached broadly to include building a domestic consensus amongst stakeholders in favour of liberalisation that recognises the overriding national interest. This includes helping to coalesce interests in favour of trade and investment openness, such as exporters of goods and services, which both depend on accessing efficient service inputs for international competitiveness. A coalescence of interests will become increasingly critical in moving forward to meet AEC goals as more difficult areas of liberalisation are inevitably encountered.
Seen against this background, this study aimed to:
- Identify and examine capacity obstacles or bottlenecks to promoting a detailed awareness and understanding of the economic benefits of services (and investment) liberalisation among stakeholders in all AMS;
- Detail for each country their associated capacity building needs; and
- Develop how these can most effectively be met and delivered.