September 30, 2015 — Last week, The Asia Foundation and the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) held a stakeholder workshop on “Promoting Regional Economic Cooperation in Southeast Asia by Addressing Non-tariff Barriers (NTBs).” The focus of the workshop was TDRI’s recent study, conducted with support from The Asia Foundation, on the major obstacles obstructing trade in agricultural products, particularly maize, between Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Over 30 participants from the three countries gathered in Bangkok, including business owners, traders, farmers, chamber of commerce representatives, and officials from relevant government agencies, to discuss findings, develop concrete recommendations and explore possible ways to move forward and reduce or eliminate these NTBs.
Opening the workshop, TDRI’s chief researcher for the project, Dr. Wisarn Pupphavesa, emphasized the importance of facilitating Thailand’s transformation into a trading nation, especially as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) strives to implement the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by the end of 2015. As Dr. Wisarn said, “We need to find a win-win solution, not be stuck in a zero-sum game.”
In a constructive discussion among participants, specific barriers were scrutinized and concrete policy recommendations, to be included in the final research report, were agreed upon. One of the most important trade barriers identified by all stakeholders is Thailand’s seasonal prohibitions on maize imports from September to January, right after the crop season ends in Cambodia and Laos. Farmers and traders also mentioned burdensome paperwork on both sides of the borders, the redundancy of some import authorizations from Thai authorities and lengthy and complicated customs procedures in Laos and Cambodia.
During the workshop, representatives from the Thai Government recognized the necessity to facilitate trade in this sector. Thai authorities agreed to look at the possibility of removing maize from the list of restricted products for which importers need to obtain a permit, of reviewing or removing the seasonal prohibition on imports, of implementing an automatic licensing system for maize, and of stationing a quarantine officer at the checkpoint to expedite the process.
In Thailand, agricultural products, which are key to the prosperity of the important agribusiness sector, are the second category most affected by non-tariff measures, with numerous rules, regulations and procedures restricting imports with the intention of protecting local farmers. In its study, focusing on maize, one of the most traded products between Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, TDRI demonstrates that import restrictions are hurting rather than protecting the Thai agriculture and economy, and limiting the benefits of the economic opportunities offered by AEC and its single regional market. The Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP) and the National Economic Research Institute (NERI) from Laos presented the perspective of exporting countries, highlighting barriers restricting trade of maize among the three countries.
The discussions will be used to refine and improve the recommendations in the TDRI study, with the final report expected to be published in October 2015. TDRI and The Asia Foundation will build on this momentum to help stakeholders push for reform until concrete actions are taken and implemented.
The Asia Foundation is a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across a dynamic and developing Asia. Informed by six decades of experience and deep local expertise, our programs address critical issues affecting Asia in the 21st century—governance and law, economic development, women’s empowerment, environment, and regional cooperation.