Online tool for intra-Asean trade disputes set for Sept. launch

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Filipino enterprises will soon have a non-judicial recourse for seeking solutions or remedies to disputes related to trade in goods within the Asean Economic Community (AEC).

A mechanism for filing a complaint by a company or trade association based in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is set to go live this September.

The platform — called Asean Solutions for Investments, Services and Trade (Asisst) — will be “an internet-based facility for receiving, processing and responding to complaints submitted by Asean enterprises on operational problems related to the implementation of Asean agreements.”

Keith Atkinson and Paolo Vergano of the Asean Regional Integration Support from the EU (Arise) based in Jakarta, Indonesia, flew in to Manila on July 7 to provide details about the Asisst program to the Philippine business community.

The presenters during the outreach event stressed that Asisst is “non-binding and consultative,” meaning peer pressure rather than sanctions will be employed to effect an “expedited and effective solution to operational problems encountered by Asean-based enterprises on cross-border issues.”

Atkinson added that there is no “right or wrong” party under the program, as the main goal is to prevent costly, drawn-out conflicts by arriving at an acceptable resolution to the problem out of court in the shortest time possible.

Initially, said Atkinson, the facility will only deal with trade in goods, including various issues on tariff and non-tariff-related measures that hamper commodities trade. After an assessment of the outcome, the program may be expanded to cover issues in cross-border services and investments.

In submitting a complaint, an Asean-based enterprise or trade association should go to the Asisst website (assist.asean.org) and file its case with the central administrator of the program.

The administrator has 10 working days with which to review the complaint and decide whether to accept or reject it, based on submitted evidence and provisions in the Asean agreements.

If accepted by Asisst, the complaint is then filed with the government of the country against which the issue was raised. The government may reject the complaint, but there must be valid justification for the rejection, said Atkinson, such as if the case has already been filed with an international judicial body.

If the complaint is accepted by the receiving Asean state, there will be 30 working days within which the central administrator of Asisst and the responsible authorities of the two parties involved (in the Philippines’ case, the DTI) can find a workable solution, to be presented to the complaining company. In turn, the complainant will notify the Asisst administrator of “whether it considers the issue resolved/remedied.”

There can be a single extension of 20 more days if needed to arrive at a remedy acceptable to both member-countries, said Atkinson.

“The timeframe for solving cross-border problems brought under Asisst shall be no more than 60 working days or 3 calendar months,” he added.

Issues not covered under Asisst include employee-employer disputes or discrimination claims; matters being or having been litigated or arbitrated in national jurisdictions; complaints against individuals or companies; matters not related to intra-Asean trade; visa and residence rights; and cross-border movement of capital or payments.

The program is to be fully Internet-based and free of charge, said Atkinson.

The Asisst online interface, developed by Arise in cooperation with the Asean member-states and the Asean Secretariat, was established to implement the Asean Consultations to Solve Trade and Investment Issues mandated under the Asean Trade in Goods Agreement. ? PhileExport, PIA

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