Text and photos by Monsi A. Serrano
Given the opportunities to transact with our ASEAN trade partners, the Filipino small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are encouraged to take advantage of the ASEAN Solutions for Investments, Services and Trade (ASSIST) to address intra-ASEAN cross-border trading problems that enable companies to fully benefit from the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and the free movement of goods and services across ASEAN.
ASSIST is a free online facility which was developed by ASEAN with the financial support of the European Union (EU) under the ARISE Plus Programme. It allows businesses to lodge e-complaints directly before ASEAN-member State Governments when they encounter exporting problems to other ASEAN countries.
First Counsellor for the Trade and Economic Section of the EU Delegation to the Philippines Maurizio Cellini highlighted that ASSIST would be a big help to the Filipino business community and is designed for the ASEAN private sector that provides help in addressing the practical problems of businesses when trading within ASEAN.
“ASSIST will help you, traders and economic operators, engage with relevant Governments authorities in the region and resolve your intra-ASEAN trade problems and it is user friendly. How ASSIST was designed is to just follow a simple set of procedures which will certainly encourage the business community to take full advantage of ASSIST,” said Cellini.
“Furthermore, ASSIST has also recently been enhanced with anonymity features, and now covers Trade in Goods and Trade in Services matters,” he added.
The EU official said the EU-ASEAN development cooperation is at the core of its successful partnership with ASEAN, both at the bilateral level and the regional ASEAN level. Bilateral assistance in the region is more than EUR 2 billion over 7 years. The ASEAN support exceeds EUR 250 million for 2014-2020.
“The ARISE Plus, EU’s flagship programme is big, multifaceted, and directly supports the ASEAN economic integration both at regional and national Level. And EU earmarked 40 million Euro for the Regional activities to support trade facilitation, standards and conformance, customs, civil aviation, intellectual property right,” said Cellini.
“In recent years, the Philippines under the ARISE project have also had complementary national projects which addressed country specific needs and supported trade policy formulation, enhanced business environment and strengthened the capacities of the private sector and improved Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures,” he said.
“Therefore, we encourage the Philippines business community to take full advantage of this free online tool ASSIST and you can visit https://assist.asean.org and navigate the site and see how simple to use it and we guarantee you that it is a user friendly,” he concluded.
ASSIST gives PH services sector a boost
Meanwhile, DTI Assistant Secretary Ann Claire Credo-Cabochan of the Bureau of International Trade Relations (BITR), pointed out the importance of trade in services as one of the core areas of the ASEAN economic integration and the importance of ASSIST. Trade in services negotiations started in 1995 when ASEAN-member States signed the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS).
The DTI aimed for it to help the Filipino business community, especially those in the services sector, do business in the ASEAN region.
Cabochan disclosed that the services sector accounts for more than 50 percent of the country’s GDP and remains to be a potential driver of growth as the fastest growing sector with an average rate of 6.3 percent.
“Alongside this fast-paced growth, there is also a great clamor for transparency and the need to be up-to-date, for more business-friendly trade rules, and at the same time, more access to other the ASEAN markets”, the DTI official said.
ASSIST is easy and free
Keynote speaker Mr. Paolo Vergano, trade facilitation expert for ARISE Plus, urged all the participants to utilize the ASSIST since the mechanism does not only promote transparency, but paves the way to improve the trading system through the feedback between and among ASEAN-member States.
He also did a demonstration on how to use the online tool by navigating the website and explained the various user-friendly and simplified menus for the user. However, he also made clear that the ASSIST is G to G (government to government) and not B to B (Business to Business) or G to B (Government to Business).
“When you submit a complaint, within 10 days, expect a feedback on your complaint whether it is valid or warrant endorsement to the party where the complaint is raised. But there is nothing to lose if you try, because the feedback you will get will give you a better understanding of how it works and how efficient it is,” he said.
Vergano also highlighted that a complainant must also do his/her assignment by checking whether or not the issue being raised is valid.
“There is nothing to pay in using ASSIST. It’s absolutely free. No administrative fee or charges. And complainant can lodge their complaints to various channels such as their trade associations, lawyer or on their own initiative. But in hiring a lawyer, the Trade Facilitation Expert made it clear that the legal fee services are at the expense of the complainant but the use of the lawyer of ASSIST in lodging a complaint is absolutely free,” said Vergano.
ASSIST and ARISE Plus
ASSIST is an ASEAN trade facilitation initiative under the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) and ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025, it is supported by the EU under its ARISE Plus programme. ASSIST has been operating for Trade in Goods cases since 2015. It is being extended to Trade in Services from 1 May 2019. Other EU supported initiatives under ARISE Plus include the ASEAN Trade Repository (ATR, available at https://atr.asean.org) and the ASEAN Customs and Transit System (ACTS, available at https://acts.asean.org/), which all cater to the private sector.