Lương Hoàng Thái, general director of the Multilateral Trade Policy Department, under the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
To implement the priorities of ASEAN in 2020, Việt Nam proposed 14 initiatives, priorities and co-operation plans for discussion, consultation and consensus with member states in the first meeting of the ASEAN Senior Economic Officials for the 51st ASEAN Economic Minister’ Meeting (SEOM 1/51), which took place in Hà Nội from January 12-14.
Lương Hoàng Thái, director of the Multilateral Trade Policy Department under the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade, speaks to Vietnam News Agency about these initiatives on the sidelines of the event.
Could you brief us about the main results of the meeting and what problems the bloc may face?
This was the first meeting to discuss the economy in ASEAN Year 2020. It set out three main tasks, the first of which is to specify priorities for the economic sector, focusing Việt Nam’s proposal on priorities for ASEAN activities in 2020. Based on these suggestions, ASEAN members discussed specific orientations to be implemented this year.
The second task is to build an action programme for the ASEAN Year 2020 and address long-standing problems which have yet to be resolved.
This meeting looked at the best ways to solve these problems so that if they need to be reported to higher levels, they will go to a ministerial level or even higher this year.
For ASEAN, one of the most important areas is economic co-operation. During the meeting, we also reviewed our external co-operation activities, or in other words, economic co-operation with ASEAN partner countries.
Each specific task was reviewed to determine how the programme and the tasks for 2020 will work, and from there to discuss with partner countries to reach an agreement for the action programme.
There are many problems in ASEAN that have been labelled priorities but have not been resolved. Therefore, this meeting proposed a temporary way to divide the existing issues into three groups.
The first group includes problems that are essentially procedural. For example, an agreement that requires a country to ratify it and is being carried out according to that country’s domestic law, but there are procedures that take time to complete.
Thus, basically, this task will be periodically reviewed by ASEAN and updated for member countries. However, ASEAN cannot intervene in each country’s procedures, so it only reminds those countries to complete such procedures as soon as possible.
The second group consists of technical issues such as some ASEAN countries in need of more resources to collect additional data for analysis before that work can be implemented.
For these problems, ASEAN countries have discussed an approach that will try to mobilise resources, first of all in ASEAN, to help each other to accomplish that task. If that does not work, it may call for assistance from ASEAN partners.
The third group is the most important among the priorities because lingering issues have not been settled due to different policy viewpoints. At this meeting, ASEAN summarised nine issues which are mainly related to trade barriers among ASEAN countries and differences in their views on how to solve them.
Therefore, this meeting systematised all nine issues, trying to solve some problems and a number of issues will need to be taken to ministerial level.
In particular, this meeting has specified agenda for ministers’ meetings in which issues would be put forth to be resolved. Thus, this meeting is essentially oriented, in which one of the important tasks is to resolve existing internal issues within ASEAN by the end of 2020.
What are the basic issues that delegates in the meeting have agreed on?
This was just the first meeting, mainly discussing the programme on all nine issues, and offering options for countries to consult on. Many problems have existed for a long time in ASEAN, some of which go back to 2015 but have not been settled.
Basically, policy issues are often difficult ones, so at this meeting, ASEAN countries agreed there were some solutions to each issue. Accordingly, the countries will bring those options back home for consultation and then return to the next meeting and make a final decision on that issue.
For example, one of the biggest issues for many years is how to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
To set out specific tasks to achieve that goal requires many countries to do many things, and that cannot be solved right now.
For example, heads of negotiating delegations from other countries must work closely to discuss these points. In order to sign this deal, some of these issues need to be handled at different levels.
Based on our agenda, countries will look at the options and hope that starting from the next meeting, there will be progress in addressing these nine issues.
Can you tell us about the 14 initiatives Việt Nam raised at the meeting?
One of the important initiatives is to work out an agenda for ASEAN in 2020. To guide the ASEAN 2020 programme, Việt Nam has launched 14 initiatives, more than the previous year, and sent details about plans to implement these initiatives.
The other ASEAN members had a few weeks to review them, and at this meeting, they asked Việt Nam to revise some proposals. We have basically collected all of their suggestions to complete the documents and then they will be submitted to the ministers for approval.
This meeting was a chance to collect opinions on Việt Nam's proposals to see what needs to be adjusted. Among the initiatives, the most important one is related to intra-ASEAN consolidation
Việt Nam is in the process of establishing an ASEAN economic community and 2020 is a time for us to conduct a mid-term review and give directions for the coming period.
Based on the implementation of the ASEAN economic community, it is necessary to first review to see if any adjustments need to be made and new action needs to be taken. This is the biggest priority set by Việt Nam and appreciated by all countries. ASEAN must unite before we determine co-operation programmes with our outside partners.
In addition, we have many initiatives related to comprehensive co-operation that were launched by ministries and economic sectors directly related to the interests of ASEAN countries. For example, the initiative to strengthen the framework against illegal fishing in the region received a lot of support.
Along with these are initiatives to strengthen food security in the bloc, to form a common ASEAN framework for e-commerce, and areas ASEAN needs to focus on to take advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
All of these initiatives have been presented in detail and sent to ASEAN countries for comment. At this meeting, countries presented their opinions on whether to support or not support, and how to adjust them to best suit the current context of ASEAN. — VNS