Wealthier states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are creating barriers that are blocking access to markets for poorer countries as the political bloc moves towards greater economic integration, an analyst has said.
Chheang Vannarith, president of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies, said trade and investment barriers included irregular tariffs and high quality standards.
“The so-called non-customs barriers still exist,” he told the Hello VOA radio program on Thursday. “Especially for the less developed members of Asean.”
“When we export our products, especially agricultural ones, to countries in the region, the first thing we face is the quality issue,” he added. “Neighboring countries also don’t open their borders for us.”
He pointed to a case where Cambodia had requested access to a Thai port to export agricultural produce, which was declined, while Vietnam has restricted imports of Cambodian products because of low quality standards.
Cambodia has sought to institute a number of reforms leading up to the establishment of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) last year, such as a “one-window” service at the border, however, such efforts have been hindered by corruption.
Good governance, Vannarith said, was essential to Cambodia benefiting from the AEC.
He also suggested the creation of a “rice export cartel”, including Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar, which could help members negotiate better deals with large markets such as the United States and Europe.
However, he added, the political will for such a project was lacking.
“To make a strong Asean community we have to help each other,” he said. “If we only think of individual national interest and competition, I think it is hard to move forward.”