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Committee on Regional Trade Agreements - Seventy-fourth Session - Free trade agreement between the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia and New Zealand (goods and services) - Note on the meeting of 23 September 2014
作者:Committee on Regional Trade Agreements

Free Trade Agreement between the association of south east Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia and New Zealand
(Goods and Services)

Note on the Meeting of 23 september 2014

Chairman: Ambassador Francisco Pirez Gordillo (Uruguay)

1.1.  The 74th Session of the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements (hereinafter 'CRTA' or the 'Committee') was convened in Airgram WTO/AIR/4338 dated 11 August 2014.

1.2.  Under Agenda Item B.III of the session, the CRTA considered the Free Trade Agreement between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia and New Zealand, (hereinafter "the Agreement").

1.3.  The Chairman said that the Agreement had entered into force on 1 January 2010 for Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Myanmar New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore and Viet Nam; 12 March 2010 for Thailand 1 January 2011 for Lao PDR; 4 January 2011 for Cambodia; and 10 January 2012 for Indonesia. It had been notified to the WTO by the Parties on 5 June 2013 and 9 May 2012 under Article XXIV:7(a) of the GATT 1994 and the Understanding on the Interpretation of Article XXIV of GATT 1994 as an Agreement establishing a free trade area (documents WT/REG284/N/1-N/2) and under GATS Article V:7(a) as an Agreement providing for the liberalization of trade in services within the meaning of Article V of the GATS (document S/C/N/545 and Add.1). The text of the Agreement was available, together with its Annexes, on the Parties' official websites. The Factual Presentation on the goods and services aspects (document WT/REG284/1 dated 27 June 2014) and written questions and replies (document WT/REG284/2 dated 18 September 2014) had been issued. 

1.4.          He proposed to organize the consideration of the Agreement by first asking the Parties and then other Members to give any general comments. The Committee would then turn to the specifics of the Agreement, using the Factual Presentation to guide the debate followed by the questions and replies document.

1.5.  The representative of Australia welcomed the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements' consideration of the Agreement establishing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area and thanked the WTO Secretariat for the Factual Presentation and Members for their questions. Australia valued the Committee's work to ensure transparency of regional trade agreements and to evaluate the Agreement's consistency with WTO rules.

1.6.  On 8 April 2010, Australia, ASEAN and New Zealand had notified the Agreement and advised that the Agreement had entered into force in 2010 for nine of the 12 signatories; a subsequent notification of 3 May 2012 had advised that the Agreement had entered into force for the three remaining signatories in January 2011 and January 2012, respectively.

1.7.  The Agreement was Australia's first plurilateral or multi-country free trade agreement and was also the first time that Australia and New Zealand were involved in negotiating jointly an Agreement with other countries. It was Australia's largest FTA: the Parties accounted for 17.6% of Australia's two way goods and services trade in 2013. Australia's trade with ASEAN had doubled over the past decade, from A$42 billion in 2003 to A$92 billion in 2013. ASEAN as an entity had been Australia's second largest trading partner since 2010 when it had overtaken the EU. The investment relationship had also been growing: over the past 10 years, from a low base, Australian investment in ASEAN and ASEAN investment in Australia had been higher than the overall growth in Australia's investment abroad and foreign investment in Australia.

1.8.  The Agreement met all the criteria of a high quality agreement that promoted growth in goods and services trade. It was fully consistent with WTO principles and rules, it delivered WTO-plus outcomes and it was comprehensive and provided substantial liberalization across all sectors. It met the most robust interpretation of the WTO threshold that an agreement cover "substantially all trade" between the parties. It had immediately bound 2005 applied tariff rates for all but a few tariff lines and set out a significant increase in the number of tariff lines with tariff-free treatment, for instance in the case of Australia from 48% of lines to 96% in 2010 and 100% by 2020. The Agreement would provide tariff-free treatment on 96% of Australia's current exports to ASEAN Member States by 2020 whereas prior to the Agreement's entry into force around 67% of Australia's exports to the region were tariff-free. Exclusions of tariffs had been kept to a minimum and generally did not exceed 1% of a country's national tariff lines.

1.9.  The Agreement also contained regional rules of origin which enhanced the ability to tap into global supply chains. This was particularly important for the manufacturing sector and for companies with operations across the region. The Agreement provided a strong framework to strengthen services and investment outcomes over time. It contained a WTO-Plus outcome on services, including through services commitments across a range of sectors such as professional services, education, financial services and telecommunications. It also contained a framework for Parties to make commitments on temporary business entry of natural persons that went beyond services suppliers to include goods sellers and investors. On investment, the Agreement created greater transparency and certainty for investors in the region and established a regime of investment protection. It also included useful commitments in other trade-related areas such as intellectual property as well as an economic cooperation component.

1.10.  The Agreement was the first time that Australia had included economic cooperation in an Agreement. It was implemented through the AANZFTA Economic Cooperation Support Programme that focused on helping developing ASEAN Member States through technical assistance and capacity building to implement the Agreement.

1.11.  The Agreement was forward looking with substantial built-in agendas or work programmes and review mechanisms in areas such as tariff measures, rules of origin, services and investment. These were aimed at having the Agreement's commitments expand and deepen over time and a general review was to be undertaken in 2016. It was a living Agreement which was reflective of the institutional arrangements that had been established to support its implementation. Since its entry into force in January 2010, the focus had been on operationalizing the Agreement and securing its effective implementation. It was in this context that the institutional provisions had been very important. He noted that he had been involved in negotiating the Agreement and in implementing it, and in many ways implementing the Agreement had been more difficult than negotiating it and particularly in the context of ensuring effective implementation. It had also been well documented in the factual presentation that a number of committees had been established by the Agreement which had had a very intensive work programme, with the Joint Committee meeting six times, the Committee on Trade in Goods nine times, the Committee on Rules of Origin eight times etc. So it had been a very intensive process.

1.12.  He also noted that on 26 August 2014, Ministers from ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand had signed the First Protocol to amend the Agreement in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. The Protocol related to a range of administrative issues that had been hindering business utilization of the Agreement's tariff commitments and the amendments related to reduced information requirements for business when completing certificates of origin and a simpler and more user friendly presentation of the Agreement's rules of origin. It would enter into force 30 days after Australia, New Zealand and at least four ASEAN Member States had completed their relevant domestic treaty processes and he noted the provisions in the Decision on the Transparency Mechanism for Regional Trade Agreements, requiring notification of changes as soon as possible after the changes occurred. He also noted that the FTA Joint Committee at its meeting in May 2014 had decided to extend the time-frame for some of the Agreement's built-in agendas and review mechanisms to take into account the fact that all 12 Parties were currently involved in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations involving ASEAN and ASEAN's four other FTA partners. It was envisaged that this would feed into the general review of the Agreement in 2016.

1.13.  Australia looked forward to the Committee's consideration of the Agreement and would endeavour to answer any additional questions that might arise.

1.14.  The representative of New Zealand thanked Australia for its opening remarks, which it endorsed. The Agreement was a significant trade agreement for New Zealand. It stood at the centre of New Zealand's trade and economic relationship with ASEAN and underscored New Zealand's commitment to greater integration with South East Asia. New Zealand looked forward to celebrating the 40th anniversary of its dialogue partnership with ASEAN in 2015.

1.15.  The Agreement had created a free trade area encompassing one of the most economically dynamic regions of the world, with a combined population of almost 650 million people and combined international trade worth US$2.8 trillion, or 16% of the world's trade in 2012. It was one of the important elements of the economic architecture of the region and one of the building blocks for the current negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. As Australia had noted, it was a "high quality, comprehensive Agreement". It was also the largest plurilateral Agreement New Zealand had signed to date.

1.16.  The Agreement progressively eliminated tariffs by 2020 on 99% of New Zealand's exports and all tariffs of ASEAN imports into New Zealand. It also covered a full range of trade related issues from goods and services trade, investment, competition and intellectual property. Rules of origin were worthy of special mention given they played a significant role supporting trade across the region, as they allowed for "cumulation", whereby one country's goods used in the manufacture of products in another country were considered as local content.

1.17.  The Agreement was also a living agreement. It had been in force for most Parties since January 2010 and had a busy and active implementation agenda. This included an innovative economic cooperation programme supporting implementation as well as numerous reviews and built in agendas. As Australia had noted, the Parties had already agreed a Protocol to the Agreement which had made a series of practical and useful improvements to the operation of the Agreement.

1.18.  Since its entry into force, the Agreement had been a catalyst for lifting ASEAN-New Zealand trade. Taken as a block, ASEAN was New Zealand's fourth largest trading partner for goods, accounting for 13% of New Zealand's total international trade, with a combined value of US$13.5 billion, as at June 2014. Of New Zealand's top trading partners, ASEAN was the second fastest growing trading relationship (behind China) over the last five years.

1.19.  New Zealand remained deeply committed to the multilateral trading system and to the importance of trade liberalization through negotiations under the WTO. In this context, New Zealand viewed the pursuit of high quality regional trade agreements such as the AANZFTA as complementary and consistent with this very important multilateral framework and considered such agreements could make a useful contribution to moving multilateral trade negotiations forward, by highlighting in a practical and meaningful way, the benefits of liberalization. He thanked the Secretariat for the factual presentation, Members for their questions and ASEAN and Australia for their cooperation during the process.

1.20.  The representative of Thailand, on behalf of ASEAN joined Australia and New Zealand in thanking the Chairperson of the CRTA and the Secretariat for the hard work in preparing the Factual Presentation of the Agreement. ASEAN was established in 1967 and today had 10 members, both developing and least developed countries, namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. ASEAN members had approximately a combined population of over 600 million, a combined GDP of over US$2 billion and total trade of over US$3,000 billion per year. Since 2005, ASEAN's GDP had grown at an average rate of 15%. In 2012, ASEAN's total exports were valued at roughly US$1,500 billion and total imports at US$1,000 billion. Over the same period exports had grown by over 45%.

1.21.  The Agreement had been signed in February 2009. It was the first region-to region free trade agreement for all three partners. It was ASEAN's fourth free trade agreement with its dialogue partners (after those with China, Korea and Japan and before that with India). Total trade between ASEAN and Australia had increased steadily from US$43.8 billion in 2009 to US$69.5 billion in 2012 and between ASEAN and New Zealand from US$5.4 billion to US$9.8 billion.

1.22.  The Parties had reached an agreement in 18 chapters, such as trade liberalization in goods, services and investment and other trade related issues such as rules of origin, competition policy, intellectual property rights and economic cooperation. The Parties believed that the Agreement had fulfilled its commitment to GATT Article XXIV and GATS Article V with the elimination of trade barriers on substantially all the trade in goods and the liberalization of substantial sectoral coverage in services. The Agreement was distinct in that it provided for different implementation periods for the Parties, as it recognized the different stages of development among ASEAN members. It was understood that in terms of GDP, GDP per capita and the balance of trade, there were existing differences among the Parties and well as within ASEAN itself. This was particularly important as some ASEAN members might not fully be able to reap the benefits of the Agreement at the beginning. However, the final outcomes involved a very significant liberalization from which, after a transitional period, ASEAN was assured that all Parties would benefit.

1.23.  ASEAN was Australia's second largest trading partner. Two-way merchandise trade had doubled over the past decade to US$68 billion in 2013 and ASEAN had received over US$2 billion of foreign direct investment from Australia, a 9.4% year on year increase. ASEAN's economic relationship with New Zealand had also grown with total two way merchandise trade at US$9.8 billion in 2013, a 6.1% year on year increase. ASEAN also received FDI of US$250 million from New Zealand in 2013. With the Agreement, ASEAN firmly believed that commercial relations and other aspects of cooperation between ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand in the Agreement would further strengthen existing trade and investment.

1.24.  ASEAN had continuously supported the multilateral trading system and believed that through collective effort in the liberalization and facilitation of trade, protectionism and barriers to trade could be abated and eliminated accordingly. ASEAN also viewed RTAs as one of the means to help achieve the final goal of the multilateral trading system and to strengthen the importance of the WTO. She thanked the Committee and the Secretariat again for the time and effort given to present one of ASEAN's historical FTAs to Members. ASEAN also thanked Canada, Chinese Taipei, the European Union and Peru for their written questions and appreciated close cooperation with Australia and New Zealand. Although ASEAN unfortunately had no technical experts at the meeting due to internal resource constraints, any further written questions from Members would be passed on to the respective capitals for a response in due course.

1.25.  The representative of the European Union thanked the Parties and the Secretariat for the material presented. He also thanked the Parties for their responses to questions raised in advance. The European Union enjoyed very strong trade and investment relations with all the Parties. The Agreement was one of the most advanced initiatives in the world and the EU welcomed it. The Agreement was also significant as an example of region to region trade liberalization and it encompassed countries with different economic and political systems and levels of development. The EU noted the wide liberalization among the Parties and significant improvements in the level of commitments by the Parties on services. Under the Agreement the Parties had taken a commitment to review their commitments in services within five years of its entry into force. Although the review had been postponed to 2016, the EU wanted to have more detail on the review, its scope and the setup of the process.

1.26.  The representative of the United States also thanked the Parties and the Secretariat for the material presented. It had also been particularly interesting to hear about the built-in work under and the evolution of the Agreement. The United States also had strong economic relations with the Parties and looked to this as a very positive sign of regional and cross regional integration and the broad liberalization that had been included under the Agreement. He drew Members' attention to the table on page 72 of the factual presentation. With respect to Singapore and Thailand, the United States had mentioned in the past its desire to see the non-notified agreements in the table notified, and he called again on these Members to notify their agreements.

1.27.  The representative of Canada thanked the Parties for their responses to Canada's questions regarding MFN consultations under Article 7 of Chapter 8 of the Agreement. Canada had also submitted a written question to Malaysia asking whether it differentiated between independent professionals in contractual services suppliers in its commitments on the movement of natural persons under the Agreement. To Canada's knowledge no written reply had been provided and he asked when such a response might be provided.

1.28.  The representative of Malaysia referred to WTO document WT/REG282/2 circulated on 18 September 2014 in which the response to Canada's question had been provided.

1.29.  The representative of Australia said that the review of services commitments related to the broader point that he had raised in his opening remarks that the Agreement was a living Agreement which continued to evolve in line with developments elsewhere. It was also important to acknowledge that ASEAN was also undertaking its own economic integration. It was therefore very focused on establishing the ASEAN Economic Community and involved with the internal process that that entailed. The Agreement and other agreements between ASEAN and its other dialogue partners related to its external engagement with other parties which then fed into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations which consisted of ASEAN and its existing six FTA partners. The focus of those negotiations was to see how to consolidate and develop greater coherence among the ASEAN plus one agreements. So one could not just proceed in a silo in the implementation of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Agreement, but needed to take into consideration the other negotiations that would also impact the Agreement. So in this context the Parties to the Agreement had sensibly decided to continue with the preparatory work on the review of the services commitments. For example support was provided to ASEAN in better collection of statistics for services trade, work that had originally been started by the European Union as they were an essential tool for design of evidence based policy development. Australia was giving institutional support to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar for services data collection, and the design and conduct of pilot surveys was scheduled for later in 2014. The progress of the built in agendas of the Agreement are therefore somewhat dependent on progress in other negotiations including RCEP but was supported by ongoing implementation of existing commitments in the Agreement.

1.30.  Finally, on a question raised by Peru, on paragraph 3.5.2 of the factual presentation on notification of draft technical regulations, to which written answers had not yet been provided, he noted that under the Chapter on TBT, under Article 4 the Parties reaffirmed their rights and obligations towards each other under the WTO TBT Agreement and under Article 11 the Parties also reaffirmed their commitments in ensuring that information on proposed or amended standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures were made available in accordance with the relevant requirements of the TBT Agreement. The Agreement did not provide for any specific notification requirement in addition to those set out in the TBT Agreement. However it did provide for the establishment of contact points for coordinating and facilitation of exchange of information regarding implementation of the Chapter. On the other questions from Peru to Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR on their services schedules, he believed that there might be a verification error that could be corrected after the meeting.

1.31.  To end he noted that the Parties believed that the Agreement built on the WTO. The WTO was facing particular challenges in updating itself and the world was not going to stand still. He hoped that everyone could move ahead collectively at some point but emphasized that the Agreement supported the multilateral trading system.

1.32.  The representative of Thailand noted that the agreement between Thailand and Peru was in the process of being finalized and the last meeting was to be held in Bangkok next month.

1.33.  The Chairman said that the consideration of the Goods and Services Aspects of the Free Trade Agreement between ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand, had allowed The Committee to clarify a number of questions and oral discussion of this RTA could be concluded in accordance with paragraph 11 of the Transparency Mechanism. If any delegations wished to ask follow up questions they were invited to forward submissions in writing to the Secretariat by 30 September 2014 and the Parties were asked to submit replies in writing by no later than 14 October 2014. In accordance with paragraph 13 of the Transparency Mechanism all written submissions, as well as minutes of this meeting would be circulated promptly, in all WTO official languages, and would be made available on the WTO website.

1.34.  The Committee took note of the comments made.