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World’s largest trading zone creates a new era for industries and consumers

Over the past 17 years, Thailand and other member countries of Asean – with a combined population of about 550 million – started to gradually reduce their import duties as part of the Asean Free Trade Area, better known as Afta.

Then in 2004, China, the world’s most populous nation, with 1.3 billion consumers, entered into an agreement with Asean to create the AC-FTA, with the target of reducing import duties on most goods to zero by January 1, 2010.

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Opportunities and threats abound for Thai consumers and industries alike under the Asean-China Free Trade Area (AC-FTA) agreement, which created the world’s largest trading zone in terms of population when it came into effect last Friday. Over the past 17 years, Thailand and other member countries of Asean – with a combined population of about 550 million – started to gradually reduce their import duties as part of the Asean Free Trade Area, better known as Afta. Then in 2004, China, the world’s most populous nation, with 1.3 billion consumers, entered into an agreement with Asean to create the AC-FTA, with the target of reducing import duties on most goods to zero by January 1, 2010.

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World’s largest trading zone creates a new era for industries, consumers

Recent Trade Reforms in Thailand

A steep fall in exports caused by the global trade slump drove down industrial production and investment in the frst half of 2009. Business and consumer sentiment was further undermined by political tensions. Although there were signs the worst had passed by midyear, the economy is expected to contract by more than was projected in March. Modest growth is seen resuming in 2010. The tempo of recovery will depend in large part on the Government fully implementing two fscal packages, including a new public investment program. Those plans would be at risk if political disruptions recur. The consumer price index is now forecast to decline this year, before low-level infation returns next year.

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In the first stage, only the six original members of Asean - Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei - will enforce the zero-import-tariff mechanism.

Infrastructure services, if quickly improved, could promote a better investment climate in Thailand. Logistic costs, for example, are reported by firms to be higher for them in 2007 compared to 2004. This is particularly true for industries that are located in regions other than Bangkok and vicinity or the East where the major markets and ports are located. They include the food processing and furniture industries. A partial explanation for the higher logistic cost was the sharp rise in diesel prices from 2004 to 2007. However, another important explanation is the increased congestion of roads and ports which added to the transport time and costs. The quality of public utility services (electricity, water, and telephone) have also declined from 2004 to 2007 as the period of service interruptions have risen. This is a reflection of the inadequacy of infrastructure services as demand from businesses have increased rapidly over the years. These service interruptions are costly for firms and will hurt Thailand’s competitiveness as other countries in the region such as China and Vietnam are quickly improving them.

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These include both universal tariff reductions, which are applicable to goods from all countries, and specific tariff reductions that result from free trade agreements (FTAs) with other countries and regions. For example, since June 2008, a wide range of agricultural and manufactured products from ASEAN member countries, China, India, and New Zealand enjoy lower or no tariffs. Among others, they are butter, vegetable extracts and fats, pharmaceutical products, paper and tubes for a medical use, pumps for liquid, air and vacuum pumps, commercial trucks, steel tubes, iron wires, aluminum structures, dish washing machines, weighting machines, and switching circuits and boards parts. In addition, the government will also cut or cancel tariffs for three types of animal feeds (soybean, corn, and fish meals) in 2009. The magnitude of changes varies across different trade agreements, such as those with the WTO, ASEAN, ACMECS28, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

A clear policy framework is needed, and the development direction set forth by the policy makers should be based on reliable information on the current status of infrastructure development. Systematic, periodic, and internationally-standard information collection within the infrastructure sector will provide Thai policy makers with good background with which to assess the current situation, identify bottlenecks, set clear policy direction, and prioritize projects more effectively .

Asean

COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Outs in ASEAN Live Updates by Country

Thailand is currently expecting vaccines to be delivered in mid-2021. The doses would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million. Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht (US$79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supplies

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ASEAN coronavirus Covid-19 live updates by country

Brunei

Brunei has joined the global Covax scheme and is expecting to have the COVID-19 vaccine in Q1 2021, having sourced enough supplies to cover 50% of the population. Discussions are on-going with other suppliers.   

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  • Brunei recorded one new case on May 8, bringing the total to 330 cases amid three deaths.
  • Brunei saw one new case on May 7, taking the total to 229 cases amid three deaths.
  • Brunei recorded one new case on May 4, taking the total to 228 amid three deaths.

Cambodia

Cambodia is expected to import vaccines from both China and Russia. China’s vaccines are still undergoing clinical trials while Russia has already commenced production. Australia has offered financial support to aid vaccine coverage in several southeast Asia countries including Cambodia.  

  • Cambodia recorded 538 new cases on May 8, bringing the total to 18,717 cases amid 114 deaths.
  • Cambodia recorded 558 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 18,179 cases and 114 deaths.
  • Cambodia reported 650 new cases and four deaths on May 6, bringing the tallies to 17,621 cases and 114 deaths.

Indonesia

Indonesia has commenced vaccinations with just over nine million doses being given to front line workers from last month. China’s Sinovac is in discussions with Indonesia to provide supplies, however, the Government faces difficulties with a large population of 268 million and price sensitivity at Sinovac’s estimated costs at 200,000 rupiah (US$20) a dose.

Indonesia’s Health Ministry’s Disease Control and Prevention Director-General Achmad Yurianto said that vaccinations would only be provided to citizens aged 18-59. The vaccine has also been required to pass halal certification prior to use and it is uncertain how the country can source enough vaccines to reach a sizeable part of its population.  Australia has stated it will also provide financial support to solve these issues.  

  • Indonesia recorded 6,130 new cases and 179 deaths on May 8, bringing the totals to 1,709,762 cases and 46,842 deaths.
  • Indonesia saw 6,327 new cases and 167 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 1,703,632 cases and 46,663 deaths.
  • Indonesia reported 5,647 new cases and 147 deaths on May 6, bringing the totals to 1,697,305 cases and 46,496 deaths.

Laos

Laos has been trialing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and is also in discussions with China about acquiring supplies. 

  • Laos recorded 28 new cases on May 8, bringing the total to 1,233.
  • Laos saw 28 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 1,205.
  • Laos saw 105 new cases on May 6, taking the total to 1,177.

Malaysia

Malaysia is to provide vaccines free of charge to its nationals, but foreigners will need to pay for the treatment, according to the Malaysian Minister of Health, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who has signed a deal with Pfizer for 12.8 million doses.

These will be administered in two stages of 6.4 million people each, with the program to commence in Q1 2021. The country aims to inoculate between 80-100% of its citizens. 

  • Malaysia reported 4,519 new cases and 25 deaths on May 8, taking the tallies to 436,944 cases and 1,657 deaths.
  • Malaysia saw 4,498 new cases and 22 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 432,425 cases and 1,632 deaths.
  • Malaysia recorded 3,551 new cases and 19 deaths on May 6, taking the totals to 427,927 cases and 1,610 deaths.

Myanmar

Myanmar is seeking assistance from the Gavi and Covax programs to acquire vaccines, while Australia is also providing financial relief. At present, the Government aims to treat 20 percent of the ‘most at risk’ in the country with vaccines. The Government is struggling with finances and logistics and is also under US sanctions, while cases are surging. The Government has banned the celebration of Christmas and other seasonal celebrations.   

  • Myanmar recorded 31 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 142,934 amid 3,210 deaths.
  • Myanmar saw 29 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 142,903 amid 3,210 deaths.
  • Myanmar recorded 16 new cases and one death on May 5, bringing the total to 142,874 amid 3,210 deaths.

Philippines

The Philippines aims to commence vaccinations from June 2021 and expects to inoculate about 25 million people (about 25 percent of its population) over the course of the year. The country has been badly affected by the virus and has the second-highest rate in Southeast Asia.

The business community has reacted, more than 30 local companies signed an agreement to purchase at least 2.6 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca in the country’s first such deal to secure coronavirus vaccines, ten days ago. They plan to donate a large part of the doses to the government for its planned vaccination program and use the rest to inoculate their employees. 

  • The country saw 6,979 new cases and 170 deaths on May 8, taking the totals to 1,094,849 cases and 18,269 deaths.
  • The Philippines reported 7,733 new cases and 108 deaths on May 7, bringing the tallies to 1,087,885 cases and 18,099 deaths.
  • The Philippines saw 6,637 new cases and 191 deaths on May 6, bringing the totals to 1,080,172 cases and 17,991 deaths.

Singapore

Singapore has been working on producing its own ‘Lunar’ vaccine, in a joint venture between the US company Arcturus together with the Duke-NUS medical school. It is a single dose, mRNA shot, developed from genetically engineering COVID-19 genes into an otherwise harmless virus. This technique is marginally safer than other vaccines which rely on dead Covid-19 material to provoke an immune response. The vaccine is expected to be available from Q1 2021. High-risk personnel will receive the vaccine first in a process to be determined by the government.     

  • Singapore recorded 20 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 61,331 cases amid 31 deaths.
  • Singapore saw 25 new cases on May 7, taking the total to 61,311 cases amid 31 deaths.
  • Singapore saw 18 new cases on May 6, bringing the total to 61,286 cases amid 31 deaths.

Thailand

Thailand is currently expecting vaccines to be delivered in mid-2021. The doses would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million.

Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht (US$79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supplies. Discussions are also on-going with Oxford University in the UK to secure a vaccine that could be available in Q1 if trials are completed in time.   

  • Thailand reported 2,419 new cases and 19 deaths on May 8, taking the tallies to 81,274 cases and 382 deaths.
  • Thailand recorded 2,044 new cases and 27 deaths on May 7, taking the totals to 78,855 cases and 363 deaths.
  • Thailand reported 1,911 new cases and 18 deaths on May 6, taking the tallies to 76,811 cases and 336 deaths.

Vietnam

Vietnam’s National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE), a division of Vietnam’s Ministry of Health, has signed an agreement with Medigen Vaccine, a Taipei, Taiwan-based vaccine company to secure the supply of 3 million to 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2021. Medigen is currently conducting Phase II studies of the vaccine, co-developed with the USA’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), in Taiwan and Vietnam with a view to a Q1 2021 rollout.  

Vietnam is also working on producing its own vaccine, with the Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals (IVAC) in Nha Trang City, partnering with New York City-based Icahn School of Medicine and the global health non-profit organization PATH. Phase 1 trials are already underway in Vietnam, while Phases 2 & 3 will be conducted at the beginning of 2021. The institute plans to submit documents for approval to the health ministry as early as April next year and claims to be capable of producing 30 million doses a year, expecting that a national vaccine could be distributed to the general population in October 2021.

  • Vietnam saw 15 new cases on May 8, taking the total to 3,152 cases amid 35 deaths.
  • As of May 7, 2021, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 3,091 cases of COVID-19. However, 2,560 of the affected patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals. Vietnam has also recorded 35 deaths due to the pandemic. The latest community transmission cases have been reported from Hanoi, Vinh Phuc, Thai Binh, Bac Ninh, and Da Nang among others. 16 local cases are linked to the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi’s Dong Anh district.
  • As of May 6, 2021, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 3,030 cases of COVID-19. However, 2,560 of the affected patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals. Vietnam has also recorded 35 deaths due to the pandemic. The latest community transmission cases have been reported from Hanoi’s outskirts district of Dong Anh.

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