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ASEAN on verge of borderless economy

Update: July, 10/2014 - 08:29

HCM CITY (VNS) — The ASEAN Economic Community to be established next year is expected to enable free movement of goods, capital, and skilled labour, a seminar heard in HCM City yesterday.

Le Trieu Dung, deputy general director of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's Multilateral Trade Policy Department, said trade between Viet Nam and ASEAN member countries has expanded rapidly in recent years to top US$40.1 billion last year.

The establishment of the AEC would bring more choices of goods and services to Vietnamese consumers and enable Vietnamese companies to expand exports to ASEAN countries because their goods would have zero duty, he said.

It would facilitate mobility of skilled labour within the bloc via mutual recognition arrangements (MRAs), a key tool that enables skilled, experienced professionals to work and ultimately be certified in a destination country, he said.

Jae Hee Chang, a specialist on employers' activities at the Bangkok-based International Labour Organisation (ILO), said "MRAs aim to promote mobility of skilled professionals, attract regional talents to meet staffing shortages, boost regional competitiveness, and improve the quality of services throughout ASEAN."

Under ASEAN MRAs, eight categories of professionals – in medicine, dentistry, nursing, accounting, surveying, engineering, architecture, and tourism — would be able to move freely within the region, she said.

She said an ILO survey of regional employers on skills and competitiveness, which polled 240 firms in 10 countries, found that "most enterprises are optimistic that greater labour mobility, lower trade barriers, and free investment flows will boost their competitiveness, but few understand the AEC fully and many are not ready to capitalise on the opportunities."

It showed that skill gaps are a major concern across the region since companies find it hard to recruit personnel with the skills they need, she said.

"The biggest challenge is that not a lot of enterprises are aware of the MRAs, and, without this awareness, trying to source people from other countries might be a little bit more difficult.

"In ASEAN right now a lot of low-skilled and medium-skilled labour is going out and coming in."

For Viet Nam, the importance of upgrading the skills of the workforce is very important, she said.

It is vital for Viet Nam and other ASEAN members to find a common language that everybody can use, especially for education and also at the workplace, because without a common language or harmonisation of thinking, it is very difficult to exchange people and ensure labour mobility, she warned.

"The language barrier and culture barrier are very important to address."

There is a need for more engagement by companies with the MRAs and in particular the ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework, she said, adding that they should be more active in having dialogues with the Government and education organisations to reform training curriculums.

Ngo Dinh Duc, general director of HR company Le & Associates, said skilled workers would have more choices in the future, but they must equip themselves with good English speaking skills and improve their productivity and attitude towards work.

To retain talent, employers need to build a good image for their company, offer a good working environment and salaries, bonuses, and welfare policies, and invest more in human resources development strategies, he said.

The level of labour integration in ASEAN remained low, Dung said, adding that the AEC would have a great impact on the labour market in ASEAN, especially Viet Nam. — VNS

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